PINELLAS PARK — No solid redevelopment plans are on the drawing board, but council members here say they're already seeing a good return on the hundreds of thousands they spent buying almost a block of Park Boulevard.
They've also had their first success with two houses they built a block away from the Park Boulevard property. They're renting one to Rick Incorvia, owner of Sign Doctor. Incorvia, who lives in Odessa, wants a more central location to be nearer his customers. He plans to live upstairs and run his business out of the ground floor of one house.
That's exactly the type of situation Pinellas Park council members envisioned when they authorized the two houses to be built in the United Cottages area along 75th Avenue N between 57th and 58th streets. They want to encourage small businesses to come into the area, get a foothold so they can move elsewhere in the city and make room for the next entrepreneur.
They have a similar idea of creating a business "incubator" in the seven properties they bought in the 5600 block of Park, smack in the middle of the city's redevelopment area. They spent about $650,000 to buy all but three of the lots. Those owners declined to sell: Bottles Pub, chiropractor James Strubbe and council member Rick Butler.
The city wants to develop its property to help encourage entrepreneurs to open up, become a success and move up so the next beginning business can get a chance. Unlike the nearby houses, entrepreneurs will not live in the Park Boulevard properties. The rents will be at below-market rates to help cash-poor entrepreneurs.
Butler has been a longtime proponent of the idea to create an incubator to help businesses get started and to help Pinellas Park's economy at the same time. He conceded during a Tuesday workshop that he believes at least 50 percent of the businesses that open there will fail. But 20 to 50 percent will succeed and create a "growth pattern that will pay us dividends," Butler said.
"We're gambling that these people will actually make it," he said. "The reality is, when it's successful, it spreads. When it spreads, it works."
Council member Jerry Mullins said he had toured an area in Boston that had been revived with a similar plan.
"It worked in Boston," Mullins said. "We hope it will work here."
Butler and Mullins said the plan has already paid off in lower police costs and happier neighbors.
More than half the total land costs — $370,000 plus about $5,140 in closing costs — went to buy 5625 and 5663 Park, which belonged to the Suncoast Haven of Rest Mission. The mission catered to hard-core homeless and neighbors constantly complained about noise, cursing, panhandling, aggressive and threatening behavior, and trespassing, among other things. The homeless also wandered elsewhere along Park Boulevard and into nearby business and residential areas.
Pinellas Park, Butler said, is already seeing savings in fewer calls for police services.
Mullins agreed, saying, "The city has stopped the degeneration of this area. It was getting worse. It was like a decay. … This decay that was going on here was spreading."
Council members agreed the first step was to gut the inside of the former mission property and the upstairs of the former Dolphin Plumbing store. They were enthusiastic about the idea of eliminating the fences that separated the various parking areas on the north, or rear, of the buildings in favor of one continuous parking lot with landscaping. And they agreed that they should hire a property manager to oversee the project once it gets going. Officials also plan to talk with officials from the entrepreneurship program at St. Petersburg College about potential partnerships that could benefit both students and the city.
And, they've agreed to hold a block party in mid May for neighbors of the former mission.
The party, they said, will signal that good changes are coming.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.