ST. PETERSBURG — Ammazza Pizza Cafe closed its doors Tuesday, becoming the third BayWalk business to fail since the city ceded control of the sidewalk in front of the struggling shopping and entertainment complex as a way to boost sales for its owner.
But to hear Ammazza's owner tell it, the sidewalk was hardly the issue in keeping his business healthy.
Domenic D'Angelo said a bad economy and questionable management of the complex steered most people away. He hadn't paid rent in six months before getting an eviction notice last week. His last day of serving pizzas, calzones and gelato was Monday.
"I was always thinking that BayWalk was going to come back," D'Angelo said. "I kept digging into my own pocket to pay my employees and electricity, waiting and waiting. But BayWalk never came back. It's a sad story."
Hurricane Pass, which sold leisure wear, closed in late November. Ben and Jerry's shut down Jan. 3. Only hermanHOME has opened since the City Council's October vote to give the sidewalk to BayWalk because its managers said they needed to ban protestors and control loitering teens.
When asked about the complex's nearly 80 percent vacancy rate, BayWalk's property manager again renewed his vow that new tenants will be announced soon.
"We have a number who are interested in first-floor restaurant space," said Thomas McGeachy, managing principal for Ciminelli Real Estate Services of Florida. "So we're optimistic about our chances in finding new tenants."
McGeachy said he couldn't comment on why D'Angelo left or if other tenants also are considering leaving. He said once the new tenants are announced in coming months, the complex will get a complete overhaul.
D'Angelo, however, said he couldn't keep waiting. He opened Ammazza in spring 2008, after he had success with another BayWalk restaurant, Grattzi, which was on the upper level and had opened almost 10 years ago. He spent nearly $200,000 of his own money to keep the two restaurants open, but said it was no match for a growing perception that BayWalk wasn't safe, which he attributed to protesters. He said with the people gone already, new owners haven't done much to bring crowds back.
"In the beginning, the owners would spend money on clowns and bands to promote the place, because the property is all about entertainment," D'Angelo said. "Now there's nothing. If you want to go shopping, why wouldn't you go to the mall?"
Grattzi closed in September, but D'Angelo said he still felt like he could make Ammazza work. He said the poor economy and cold weather this year made it untenable. The only seating at Ammazza was outdoors.
"I still believe in BayWalk, after all of this," D'Angelo said. "The place is nice. There's so much potential. But until the owner starts addressing the look and the feel of the place, I don't see how it will succeed."