Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rating the architecture that frames downtown St. Petersburg's waterfront park


In the early 1900s, at a time when most waterfront cities had ports and industrial plants, a crusading editor named W.L. Straub pressed this city to make its waterfront a public park. Today, 100 years later, St. Petersburg has the third-largest downtown waterfront park in North America, behind only Chicago and Vancouver. A spiky skyline has taken shape with six new condo towers rising in the past decade alone. So, with so many new skyscrapers and such varied architectural styles, did we do a good job of framing the unique waterfront park that Straub and other city pioneers left us?

We turned to urban design specialist Vikas Mehta, an assistant professor of urban design and architecture at the University of South Florida, for the answers. Mehta, who teaches students how to come up with urban design visions, has been to St. Petersburg more than 20 times. He has visited the Dalí Museum and the Pier. He has eaten at Ceviche and Chappy's. But he has never worked on any city projects.

One day recently, we walked the waterfront with Mehta — from the Vinoy hotel to the new Dalí Museum.

Mehta called St. Petersburg's waterfront "a wonderful, dynamic public space" with a good mix of sports, cultural and entertainment venues. He suggested the city might think of its waterfront as a unique series of coves and harbors, each with its own individual character that could be more clearly defined.

He felt the city needed to do a better job of signaling that a street had reached the waterfront with a "design intervention," such as a gazebo or some other "folly." He said the city might draw more visitors to the Pier by making the journey there more interesting, perhaps with vendors.

As for the city's skyline, Mehta liked some of the city's newest buildings, like Signature Place and Ovation. He said they reflect contemporary architecture instead of parroting the Mediterranean Revival roots of the city's oldest buildings, such as the Vinoy. Not all buildings in a city have to match architecturally, he thinks.

"What that does is it lets history sort of announce its own position," he said, "and it sort of explains the time and the way the city's grown and the city's presence over decades and centuries."

Mehta said he was more concerned about what the buildings did at the street level and how they framed the waterfront. He said arcades that provide shade and shelter should be part of the design guidelines for any building in sunny St. Petersburg.

Beach Drive condo towers have risen under three generations of zoning regulations.

Bayfront Tower, for example, was built with virtually no rules. The clunky building stretches like a sumo wrestler to all four corners of a full city block, nothing but concrete and steel for 27 floors.

Another generation of zoning regulations produced condo towers like Cloisters and Florencia, which were built about a decade ago. They don't take up every square inch of their city blocks, but these towers were not as successful at creating an inviting streetscape.

Today's zoning ordinances call for the tall part of a building to be built far back from the street's edge, with a two- or three-story base along the edge of the street that attracts city life. Parkshore Plaza and 400 Beach Drive are examples of this, and Mehta pointed out that those storefronts draw the most pedestrians.

To be sure, the place once known as "God's waiting room" now has a selection of sidewalk cafes. People are moving around the city on Segways and rickshaws and horse-drawn carriages.

But, according to Mehta, there's room for improvement. We realize his view of St. Petersburg's waterfront is subjective. Take it for what it's worth: one man's opinion.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy and staffer Barbara Moch contributed to this article. Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at or (727) 893-8640.


Vikas Mehta, 44, is an assistant professor of architecture and urban design at the University of South Florida. He teaches graduate architecture and urban design studios, theory courses and electives on public space and Indian architecture. His research explores the design of the built environment with an emphasis on human behavior and perceptions. Mehta has a doctorate in urban and regional planning and design from the University of Maryland. He also has 13 years' experience working as an architect and urban designer in the United States and India.

Source: University of South Florida

Rating the architecture that frames downtown St. Petersburg's waterfront park 04/30/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 3, 2010 11:55am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals


    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  2. No lack of issues facing St. Petersburg's six council candidates


    ST. PETERSBURG — The six candidates for City Council gathered Monday evening in the very chamber to which they aspire to serve.

    St. Petersburg City Council candidates (from left)  Brandi Gabbard and Barclay Harless in District 2; Jerick Johnston and incumbent council member Darden Rice in District 4; and Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll of District 6. All six candidates appeared at Monday night's forum at City Hall sponsored by the League of Women Voters. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]

  3. Iraq's Kurds vote on independence, raising regional fears


    IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi Kurds voted Monday in a landmark referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed as a hostile act by Iraq's central government. Neighboring Turkey even threatened a military response.

    People celebrate Monday after voting closed in a referendum on independence in Irbil, Iraq.
  4. North Korean diplomat says Trump has 'declared war'


    UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that President Donald Trump's weekend tweet was a "declaration of war" and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks outside the U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York on Monday.
  5. Pinellas grants St. Pete's request to add millions to pier budget

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    The Pinellas County Commission has granted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate millions more toward the city's new pier.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday  voted 7-1 to appropriate $17.6 million for the over-water portion of the Pier District. This is a rendering of what the new Pier District could look like. [Courtesy of St. Petersburg]