Monday, January 22, 2018
News Roundup

Corey Avenue needs residential, hotel component, planner says

ST. PETE BEACH — Ideas about the future look and feel of the Corey Avenue/Downtown District will be debated once again this month by the City Commission.

One major topic will be the role of mixed-use development and, in particular, the importance of residential and transient housing to create a pedestrian dynamic that will support the area's business and entertainment sector.

"Remember that Beach Drive in St. Petersburg didn't really get started until there was residential and parking," Avera Wynne, planning director for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, told the commission two weeks ago.

Wynne summarized the results of months of study over the past year that included an online survey, two public commission workshops and a planning board discussion.

"What is real clear is that people feel the district needs sprucing up to make it more vibrant. You need more hotels and residential to put feet in the streets," Wynne stressed. "A lot of young people are looking for a place where they can live, work and play."

Although the Corey area has a "really good market draw" and is within 15 miles of a population of 640,000 people, the regional planning council thinks the entire area needs to be better connected to provide for a better pedestrian experience.

Architectural continuity from the east to the west end would enhance the area's existing character with "modern functionality."

Wynne suggested extending the Corey streetscape to the waterfront and installing a "sun walk" to encourage pedestrians to explore the entire area.

The east end of Corey Avenue has the largest area of underused property, while the west end needs virtually total revitalization, he said.

"You need to put things out there for people to do," he said, suggesting more outside dining and bicycle racks.

Public parks and facilities need to be modernized and recast to provide venues for entertainment and events.

"A lot of people don't realize what a great asset is there when they are coming across the bridge," Wynne said.

Arguing that "something needs to be done" to revitalize the Corey and downtown areas and develop "a strong sense of place," the planning council presented to-do list of "seven steps to revitalization":

• Get the east end of Corey Avenue ready for retail, residential units, and more restaurants and parking,

• Identify and support opportunities for revitalization of west end properties.

• Finalize plans for improving streetscaping, landscaping, walkability and parking,

• Decide on redesigning roads in the downtown area.

• Identify public-private partnership opportunities for off-street parking.

• Explore opportunities to retain the Beach Theatre, which Wynne described as an "integral part" of the Corey experience.

• Develop a plan to maximize public use of the city hall, library, former police station, community center, Horan Park and the marina.

The proposed Corey Couplet, which has been under consideration for years, would create one-way streets encircling downtown, enabling more public parking and a safer pedestrian experience.

"It's time to act now," said Mayor Steve McFarlin, who hopes the commission will begin making firm decisions about the Corey Avenue area.

He supports the couplet idea and agrees with Wynne that creating residential units is key to revitalizing the area.

"If we want to bring private investment in, we have got to show that we are making some changes to accommodate development," McFarlin said.

The commission delayed a more in-depth discussion until its Aug. 13 meeting, when City Manager Mike Bonfield said he would present staff recommendations for the next steps in the redevelopment of the Corey area.

The couplet, in particular, has been controversial. Businesses are concerned that it will direct traffic away from them, and residents worry that previously quiet streets will become higher speed thoroughfares.

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