ST. PETERSBURG — A link to the new Skyway Marina District, where sunsets, shopping and dining are promised, announces that a proper website is coming soon.
The placeholder, skywaymarinadistrict.com, features a YouTube rendering of a redeveloped and unrecognizable Skyway Mall — once a thriving shopping center — featuring shops, restaurants, high-rise residences, businesses, fountains and palm trees.
It's a sliver of a plan that businesses and neighborhoods touching Tampa Bay and Boca Ciega Bay and encompassing the Boyd Hill Nature Preserve hope will revitalize St. Petersburg's southernmost point.
The plan has gotten a series of boosts lately:
• In February, the City Council voted to accept a $1 million Florida Department of Transportation grant to enhance rights of way in the district and other parts of the city. An undetermined sum will be allocated to plant trees along 34th Street S and the Pinellas Bayway, past Eckerd College. Work should begin in 2015.
• The City Council also voted to allot an initial $50,000 for the area, situated primarily along a 1.5-mile stretch of 34th Street, between 30th and 54th avenues S.
• Capital improvement projects for three major intersections are planned. The projects, though, must compete with others proposed as part of the city's five-year capital improvement plan, which gets money from the general revenue fund. Gary Jones, a senior planner in the city's economic development department, said other sources will be considered to supplement funding for the intersection projects.
Council member Steve Kornell, who has been working with neighborhood leaders for several years, is loath to see the intersection work dragged out over five years.
"The $50,000 was a nice start, but the city has neglected this area for over a decade. It's time to make sure the city does its basics, like code enforcement, streetscaping, some public art," he said.
"My recommendation is that we do it all at once, because this money will start returning money to the tax base. There are some really good business opportunities on this corridor."
Competition for attention and money is a concern, particularly given Mayor Rick Kriseman's goal to focus on the struggling Midtown area, just north of neighborhoods in the newly incorporated Skyway Marina District.
"You always kind of worry about it, because of limited resources. It is something that is always in the back of our minds," Tom Ando, president of the Broadwater Civic Association said, adding, though, that "if Midtown succeeds, then the whole area succeeds."
Ando said he is pleased the new district is getting attention. "I'm thrilled, because it's been a long time coming. We've had setbacks through the years," he said. "We are really at a great point right now and we just want to keep the momentum going."
District leaders have yet to determine how to spend the $50,000 the council approved. They have discussed hiring a manager to promote the area, said Marty Paterno of the Skyway Marina Business Association and owner of a UPS store in the Marina Village Shopping Center.
"The main thing is to try to get the most bang for the buck," he said.
At a recent meeting, the group learned the Flamingo Resort at 4601 34th St. S will donate office space, Kornell said.
There has been other encouraging news. Maximo Marina, with more than 300 wet slips, is undergoing a major renovation. Project manager Walter Margerison said the five-year, six-phase project, with a projected cost of at least $25 million, is on schedule.
"We're moving right along," he said of the marina at 4801 37th St. S.
It has also been announced that a new business is moving to a 1.14-acre site at 4050 34th St. S. St. Petersburg Kidney Care South will occupy a new, 7,500-square-foot building.
Also, the former Palazzo Di Oro, an assisted living facility that closed abruptly more than two years ago, is being updated by new owners Senior Management Advisors and ValStone Partners. A temporary sign at 3600 34th St. S says Grand Villa of St. Petersburg, a new ALF, is coming soon.
Large areas of 34th Street S, though, remain underdeveloped. A site owned by Home Depot has long been vacant and a former Kmart stands empty on property owned by Sears Holding. And Bay Pointe Plaza, anchored by Publix, recently lost a West Marine store and will soon see the exit of family-owned Diamonds Direct.
Diamonds Direct owner Gary Sanchez said his exit after 20 years stems from the fact that top brands weren't impressed with his location.
"They wanted us to be more centrally located and we needed a new and vibrant location in order to accomplish this goal," he said.
Sanchez is moving downtown, but was tight-lipped when asked whether it's to the new Sundial complex, at the former BayWalk. He did say his move has been delayed by construction.
Sanchez's concern about demographics and location are among the challenges the new district is working to combat, despite city and census data showing that its neighborhoods have comparable incomes with more prestigious areas such as the Old Northeast.
Plans for the district have not yet been adopted by the City Council. That could come in the spring, Jones said.
Judy Ellis, president of the Lakewood Estates Civic Association, is optimistic about recent developments, saying she is "very encouraged by the city's response" and grateful for the mayor's support.
"We believe that this is a very neglected area which, with its adjacent water resources, has enormous potential to be a thriving source of income and employment for the city," she said.
"We know it's going to take time, but we also believe that with a change in the visual appearance of the area, we can get that first hotel, that first high-rise condo/apartment/retail complex, to start the ball rolling. All you have to do is look at downtown to see what can happen."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.