ST. PETERSBURG — About 18 months and $30 million from now the Shops at St. Pete will look and feel very little like BayWalk.
Developers say the sleek, contemporary reincarnation of the long suffering, stucco shopping center will emerge with natural stone walls and columns, dining terraces, outdoor lounges, parking valets, shade canopies, koi ponds and Jumbotrons.
But the Bill Edwards Group, the shopping center's owner, needed a 20-year parking and security agreement with the city to sign tenants and make all this possible. It got it Thursday when the City Council unanimously passed such an agreement.
"We need them and they need us," said Mayor Bill Foster.
Foster said the Shops must have a 20-year agreement in regard to employee parking and security before it can ink contracts with tenants who will sign leases for the same amount of time.
The agreement calls for the city to promise the Shops four things.
It will lease 180 parking spaces on the top deck for the center's employees for 20 years. The Shops will have control over the security in the city-owned garage as well as maintenance of the walkway between the garage and the retail center.
And customers who spend $20 or more at the Shops will get four hours of free parking throughout the first year it is open.
The free parking means the city will lose an estimated $204,000 in revenue. But it expects to gain $253,000 in other parking revenue if the Shops draws more people to the area. It will also save $50,000 a year when it turns over the cost of maintaining the walkway. All told, the city expects to come out ahead by $99,000 the first year the Shops are open.
Wengay Newton was the only council member to question the agreement.
"Wouldn't you be tying a future council and mayor to a 20-year agreement? Why not do it for two or three years while they get it open," he asked Rick Mussett, the city's senior administrator of development. He also reminded council of broken promises from previous BayWalk owners.
But there is an out clause. If the Shops hasn't reopened by June 2014 with at least 51 percent of its space leased, the agreement is off.
Most other council members said they felt good about the agreement and the Bill Edwards Group's plans based on improvements already made at BayWalk and at Mahaffey Theater. Mortgage magnate and music producer Bill Edwards is contracted by the city to manage Mahaffey. He bought BayWalk for $5.2 million a year ago.
Now that the parking agreement is final, the Shops can move forward signing leases and construction will start in February or March.
"We are prepared to proceed immediately. We have a very aggressive schedule to get finished by the beginning of 2014," said Joe Jimenez, managing director of The Edwards Group. "We are deep into negotiations. We will have a minimum of two, most likely three restaurants with ownership that is regarded nationally and internationally."
Those restaurants will be announced in 30 to 60 days, with the names of three anchor retail tenants announced 30 to 60 days after that, he said.
The Tampa Bay Times reported in July that likely tenants include Zakarian's Steak House and Morimoto, an Asian fusion restaurant. "I would say it's pretty certain they are going to be there," Faith Hope Consolo, the New York-based retail consultant contracted by Edwards, said in July. Both restaurants are owned by celebrity chefs featured on the Food Network who have restaurants in places such as New York, Mumbai and Hawaii.
The Shops will compete with International Plaza, Jimenez said, offering apparel and home goods that St. Petersburg residents currently buy in Tampa.
The plaza in the middle of the center will offer events like wine tastings and art shows, he told the council. Its website, theshopsatstpete.com promises even more.
Along with dining and shopping, it refers to fashion shows, food shows, celebrity events, cooking and photography classes and book readings.
Fountains, ponds, tiny sparkling lights against the sky and landscaped living walls will create a resort-like ambiance.
A wait staff will deliver wine and cocktails to sitting areas throughout the second floor terrace.
"The Shops at St. Pete is the place to see and be seen," the flowing copy declares.
What remains to be seen is whether this alluring vision comes to fruition.