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Plenty of debris and plans afoot at BayWalk, but no Emeril Lagasse

ST. PETERSBURG — As bulldozers tear away at BayWalk, the debris is flying along with expectations, questions, celebrity chef rumors and renderings.

Someone posted an architectural drawing of rounded buildings fronted with glass on a Facebook page and described it as the new look of BayWalk.

Bill Edwards, owner of the largely empty retail complex, says it's not. He's seen about 20 renderings so far, and none of those is the final pick. The futuristic one on Facebook is an earlier concept that has been scrapped.

Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse has been visiting town and suspected to be planning a restaurant at BayWalk.

Again Edwards says that's not the case. Lagasse is too busy opening another restaurant in New Orleans.

Okay, well what about Masaharu Morimoto? The chef who helped put New York's Nobu restaurant on the culinary map and the star of Iron Chef America recently met with Edwards. He has several restaurants that combine Western and Japanese cuisine around the country including a sushi bar in Boca Raton.

Edwards said there is no contract about to be signed. He did confirm a recent meeting with Morimoto but said it was mostly to talk about a food and wine festival he wants to produce at Mahaffey Theater. Edwards also runs the city-owned performing arts center.

When Edwards presented the futuristic rendering of BayWalk to the City Council in March, he said he was getting "three iconic chefs" to put different types of food in the downtown retail center.

But it seems Lagasse won't be in that mix.

"I know a lot of chefs. I've known Emeril for years. He comes here because he does HSN (Home Shopping Network). We're talking about dong a wine and food festival," Edwards said. "He's just too busy to put anything at BayWalk at this moment."

There are no signed contracts for any space at BayWalk, he added, but thinks he will announce some tenants within two months. Edwards hopes to have the complex revamped by March or April 2013.

While it seems Lagasse isn't going to be in the first round of tenants, Edwards didn't rule out the possibility of Morimoto.

"He loved St. Petersburg. He thought it was great," he said.

"He's a great chef, and I love him. He's a good guy. But I have nothing going at this moment," Edwards said.

"I can tell you that we don't have any plans to do that right now," said Mark Stone, a spokesman for Morimoto's restaurants.

As for what BayWalk might look like once renovated, Edwards said it won't be as modern as the rendering presented to the council. He liked the look, but it was too hard to merge with the existing structure. One store and the Muvico box office are being torn down, but the rest of BayWalk will remain. It will be resurfaced and have a cleaner look.

"I've got to go with the flow of that building," Edwards said. "I have to go with a lot of the stuff I already have."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Contact Katherine Snow Smith at kssmith@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8785.

Plenty of debris and plans afoot at BayWalk, but no Emeril Lagasse 05/09/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 5:37pm]
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