Make us your home page

Thoughts over a BayWalk chili dog

I went to Johnny Rockets at BayWalk in downtown St. Petersburg and got a chili dog. This was a fine use of time. It came with good diner fries, too. I passed up the milkshake until next time. You gotta draw the line somewhere.

BayWalk is as charming to me as it ever was, especially on a mild, sunny afternoon, sitting on a bench in post-chili-dog contemplation.

The courtyard is ringed with stores — not my kind of store in particular, but then, they never were, except for Ben & Jerry's. You can buy sunglasses and sandals, video games or arty home furnishings. There's an Ann Taylor out front, and a store that sells only black and white.

Only when you look a little closer do you see omens. There are vacant windows and "For Lease" signs. The front corner storefront upstairs is boarded over with plywood. I had my chili dog in solitude, while a half-dozen or so map-wielding weekday tourists wandered by.

BayWalk is in trouble. The new owner has failed to get the mortgage reworked and is in court. Many past tenants are gone; other leases are coming up. Even the main attraction, Muvico 20, is grumbling about leaving.

This is too bad for a lot of reasons, but the main one is that St. Petersburg owes BayWalk for a lot of what has happened to its revitalized downtown over the past few years. BayWalk succeeded where older, grander ideas (Bay Plaza!) failed.

People have a lot of theories. In the first place, it's not like retailers everywhere aren't struggling. St. Petersburg is in for a tough period of dog-eat-dog in the blocks leading down to the waterfront.

On top of that, BayWalk has had its special problems. I used to think BayWalk had things figured out better than its Tampa look-alike, Centro Ybor. Now it's not so clear.

Centro Ybor was a family destination plopped down in the middle of a weekend-night madhouse, where thousands of bar-hopping Gen-X-ers roamed the closed-off streets. Talk about an identity problem.

By virtue of its success, BayWalk, too, became a scene for kids, then a target for protestors of all variety, and in the end was perceived as a little dangerous. I was dissuaded by crowds of raucous kids on weekend nights long before unfortunate and isolated episodes of nearby gunplay in out-of-control crowds. You do not need many instances of the word "gunplay" to get people worried.

I hear different answers and do not know the right one. It seems incredible that the entire southern quadrant of an urban county cannot support a movie theater, yet sales there are down and up everywhere else. Some have the idea that the retail mix isn't right, that it should be either clearly more high-end retail, or low-end entertainment.

I've heard people voice distaste with the whole experience, negotiating the parking garage, which can be vaguely creepy at night, then running the gamut of panhandlers, amateur musicians and everything else between the garage and Second Avenue.

Maybe BayWalk is past its time and the downtown no longer needs it. But I don't think so. On the national level these days, we eagerly declare institutions Too Big to Fail. BayWalk poses the question of what role the city's political and commercial leaders should play, beyond passively letting the private parties decide a big part of their downtown's future in court.

Thoughts over a BayWalk chili dog 12/08/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 12, 2008 12:54pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Big rents and changing tastes drive dives off St. Pete's 600 block

    Music & Concerts

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kendra Marolf was behind the lobby bar of the State Theatre, pouring vodka sodas for a weeknight crowd packed tight for Bishop Briggs, the latest alternative artist to sell out her club.

    Sam Picciano, 25, left, of Tampa and Molly Cord 24, Palm Harbor shop for record albums for a friend at Daddy Kool Records located on the 600 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, May 20, 2017. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
  2. How Hollywood is giving its biggest stars digital facelifts


    LOS ANGELES — Johnny Depp is 53 years old but he doesn't look a day over 26 in the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie — at least for a few moments. There was no plastic surgeon involved, heavy makeup or archival footage used to take the actor back to his boyish "Cry Baby" face, however. It's all …

    This combination of photos released by Disney, shows the character Jack Sparrow at two stages of his life in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales."  Johnny Depp, who portrays the character, is the latest mega-star to get the drastic de-aging treatment on screen
[Disney via Associated Press]
  3. Precinct Pizza to cover new neighborhood


    NEW TAMPA — In 2006, husband and wife, Rick and Jessica Drury opened up Precinct Pizza in Channelside.

    Precinct Pizza looks to gain greater popularity in New Tampa with its Bambino Bleu Cheese piazza. Photo courtesy of Precinct Pizza.
  4. Da Burger Joint's menu goes beyond 'da burger'


    OLDSMAR — After owning and operating restaurants in four different states, Danny Falcone recently opened his ninth restaurant in Oldsmar.

    The old-fashioned onion burger is a favorite at the Da Burger Joint in Oldsmar. Photo by Danielle Hauser.
  5. Vegan kitchen comes to Downtown Tampa


    Charles Rumph and Tim Fedorko's first attempt at launching a vegan restaurant concept in Tampa "was a disaster."

    Farmacy Vegan Kitchen + Bakery serves wraps, acai bowls, smoothies and juices and plant-based baked goods like strawberry cupcakes. Photo courtesy of Charles Rumph.