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Tour visits downtown to check out a 'jewel'

The Snell Arcade building, right, built in 1928 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was touted on the tour.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

The Snell Arcade building, right, built in 1928 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was touted on the tour.

ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg has spent a decade successfully shaking itself from its provincial slumber, but many outside the city still regard it as a suffix affixed to Tampa.

So the task Tuesday was simple: Lease three tour buses, cram them full of curious real estate professionals, and showcase the city's office towers, condos, museums and businesses.

"Our city I like to think of as a transformed jewel," announced Peter Betzer, former dean at the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science and now president of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership.

The tour first served up the south side of town, taking in Al Lang Field, Albert Whitted Airport, the Salvador Dali Museum and All Children's Hospital.

After a cookie and coffee break at 100 Bay Central, a vacant office complex that the city has been eager to lease, the caravan proceeded to take in the northern edge of downtown.

Progress Energy's new headquarters, the Fourth Street retail district, Mirror Lake, Tropicana Field and Beach Drive took center stage.

Television screens that unfolded from the ceilings of the buses flashed photos and details of vacant office properties for lease.

As the buses skirted the grounds of the 80-year-old Renaissance Vinoy Resort, the inky skies decided to end the spring drought with a cloudburst.

Sheets of rain whipped the bay between the bobbing sailboats as the final bus edged up to the newly finished north wing of the Museum of Fine Arts.

"Is there a more beautiful place?" Tom Kennedy asked. He was one of the invitees.

He leases offices for the real estate firm Grubb & Ellis in Tampa. "We saw everything today but the sunshine."

"If you want your staff living, working and playing in a vibrant college town, this is the place," Betzer concluded.

The tour had a serious purpose beyond mere bragging rights. The city's 15 percent office vacancy rate, caused in part by recent defections by Progress Energy and Banker's Insurance, is a sore spot.

"We tried to bring in people unfamiliar with downtown," said Paula Smith, who works for Osprey Real Estate Services and helped organize the show and tell. "We have more vacancies than we'd like."

James Thorner can be reached at thorner@sptimes.com.

Tour visits downtown to check out a 'jewel' 05/20/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 21, 2008 2:56pm]
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