ST. PETERSBURG — The identity of one of the city's crown jewels is being transformed, and residents will finally get a glimpse next month of millionaire Bill Edward's vision for BayWalk.
Already, construction crews have razed a two-story building along Second Avenue N that housed White House Black Market to make the complex more visible and accessible from the street.
Loads of crushed shells now cover the ground where several old buildings stood. More demolition is coming as workers will strip down some exterior walls to their steel skins.
In order for Edwards to debut a new version of the complex by September 2013, he has to file paperwork by Aug. 7 with the city's Planning and Visioning Commission.
"We have a whole schedule," Edwards, 67, told the Tampa Bay Times. "We need to catch that season. If I miss that date, I'll be in trouble."
Edwards declined to reveal the center's new name or which restaurants and retail stores he has lured to the center. But he stressed it will be dominated by fashion and food establishments, not bars.
He wants places where people can buy suits and dresses.
"We're building up interest," Edwards said. "It will make everyone smile. Everything I am doing is for the betterment of the downtown area."
Even Mayor Bill Foster wouldn't reveal what he knows of Edwards' plans.
"Get it from him," he said. "It's going to be great."
The shopping complex is now a ghost town, as all but a few storefronts sit empty.
The new center, Edwards said, will complement businesses on Beach Drive by pushing customers to them. He also hopes to draw from the thousands of people who attend the nearby Saturday Morning Market.
"What do those people do when they leave the market?" Edwards asked. "This is a walkable downtown. This will be retail that will grow other businesses around us."
Last September, cheers greeted news that Edwards — a local self-made millionaire — had purchased the long-struggling retail complex for $5.2 million, $3 million less than the asking price.
The Edwards Group has hosted several national brand retail and restaurant executives at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort to pitch BayWalk.
Downtown's luxury condos and the growing flourish of activity on Beach Drive make BayWalk an intriguing venture for potential retailers, Edwards said.
When CW Capital owned the complex, announcements of delayed "grand openings" drew complaints from city officials, who said they were growing impatient as one of downtown's key properties remained nearly vacant.
After Edwards bought the center, he had several buildings painted so that they didn't become eyesores — even though they were eventually torn down. That, he said, shows his commitment.
Some business people think Edwards is crazy to pump money into the center and have suggested that he demolish the entire complex and build a new residential tower.
Edwards, however, said he is committed to helping downtown thrive. When pressed, he declined to reveal how much money he is spending on the transformation.
"It's going to take quite awhile to recover the money," Edwards said, laughing. "My family will break even when I am gone."
Mark Puente can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.