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New Hooters causing traffic and parking problems for neighbors in St. Petersburg

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE

Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — The city's newest Hooters is packing them in.

But good news for the restaurant at 4125 Fourth St. N has been a nightmare for some neighbors. They said as much during a recent meeting of the Northeast Park Neighborhood Association, complaining about heavy traffic, chock-a-block street parking and inaccessible driveways.

"I didn't believe it would be so bad,'' Anna Gentry said last week as she sat in her modest home across the street from the new restaurant.

"It's been so stressful for me. I can't even relax and sit on my porch. I am just aggravated."

Susan Copeland said she drove through a "tunnel" of cars to get home the day Hooters opened and now frets about being able to maneuver her camper to the front of her property as she prepares for weekend trips.

"We had a terrible problem with the opening,'' agreed Jay Guy, standing on the street near Copeland's home.

But, he said, the restaurant is making an effort to be neighborly. "It's all a matter of all of us getting adjusted to having a very busy business on our street,'' he said.

Last week, the city responded by putting up no-parking signs on the north side of their 42nd Avenue N block. Hooters had already leased additional parking to ease the overflow into the community. The move was in addition to free valet parking the restaurant began offering on opening day and the signs it posted asking patrons to exit west to Fourth Street, instead of bothering the neighbors.

"We've demonstrated that we will work with them,'' said Neil Kiefer, chief executive officer for Hooters Management Corp., based in Clearwater. "We're taking whatever measures we can."

For some neighbors, that may not be enough.

Betty Braverman, who lives within walking distance of the new Hooters and has even eaten there a couple of times, wants the new no-parking restrictions extended beyond the initial block on 42nd Avenue N, between Fourth and Third streets.

"They're coming further down the street,'' she said of the restaurant's customers.

Saying that 42nd Avenue is like a thoroughfare, Braverman also would like to see a four-way stop at 42nd Avenue N and Third Street, so those who go to Hooters "won't cut through at 30 miles an hour.''

"I have nothing against them, I just would like them to respect the neighborhood,'' she said.

Friday evening, as baseball fans settled in to watch the Rays at the sports bar-themed restaurant, cars lined one side of 42nd Avenue N for a block and a half, 41st Avenue N for a block and part of Third Street. Valets had made sure that Hooters' parking lot was jammed to capacity. Leased space across the street was also full.

Joe Kubicki, St. Petersburg's director of transportation and parking management, said the city will assess the new parking restrictions before deciding whether to take further action.

"We all recognize that it is overly busy right now because it's new, so we are going to give it some time to average out and we're going to react to it if there seems to be a problem," he said.

Nathan Cameron, owner of Village Shoppes, a small shopping center across the street from Hooters, has been happy to help. He is renting 19 parking spaces to the restaurant in the evening.

"I figured they were going to have a problem,'' he said. "Hopefully, me allowing them to park down there will alleviate that. I'm happy they are there."

Hooters opened on Aug. 30 in a spot once occupied by the more highbrow Pepin restaurant, which closed in January after more than three decades in business. News of Pepin's replacement, known for chicken wings and scantily clad women, was greeted by some residents with trepidation.

Kiefer tried to offer reassurance, and residents were invited to free meals in advance of the official opening.

Nancy Vaupel, whose house is next door, has no complaints and is ecstatic about the maiden hair ferns Hooters has planted on the west side of her property.

"They have cleaned up the landscape, which had been nothing but a snake pit. I'm very pleased,'' she said.

"They're doing a really good business. They close early. I see respectable people. They don't have a bunch of teenagers coming and going. In fact, I feel safer now. There are more people coming and going.''

The crowds have lessened in recent days, so the seven-day-a-week valet parking has been cut back to Thursday through Monday, said Peggy Brock, Hooters' area supervisor.

"We are working very hard to be accommodating to all of our neighbors,'' she said.

Jose Castaneda, who lives in a nearby apartment complex, predicts the fuss will die down.

It's simply the new restaurant on the block, he said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

New Hooters causing traffic and parking problems for neighbors in St. Petersburg 10/04/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 4:50pm]
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