ST. PETERSBURG — Redevelopment of a section of one of the major arteries leading to the Sunshine Skyway bridge and high-traffic destinations such as the beaches and Eckerd College may be months, even years away, but residents in surrounding neighborhoods are being challenged to act "as if."
"There's no need to wait. Buy here," said Jodi Davis, president of the Greater Pinellas Point Civic Association.
"We've all heard the saying, put your money where your mouth is. I prefer to say, put your money where your heart is, and our hearts are here."
Davis was speaking at the second communitywide gathering since April, when residents, business owners, leaders from surrounding neighborhoods, the mayor and several City Council members met to launch an effort to revitalize a 1.5-mile stretch of 34th Street between 30th and 54th avenues S. The goal is to increase retail and redevelopment opportunities in the area and meet the needs of residents clamoring for more local places to shop, eat, work and play.
In the months since the spring kickoff, a steering committee has worked on various aspects of the plan, such as land use and site design, economic development, marketing and transportation. Vision statements for each were unveiled at this month's meeting.
A new business association has been formed, with about 30 businesses meeting regularly in the restaurant at the Flamingo Resort, said Tom Grimes, hospitality and marketing director for the resort. The group is tentatively being called the 34th Street S Business Association.
Grimes said the area is ripe for redevelopment. The Flamingo, which promotes itself as a gay travel destination, drew 3,500 people for St. Petersburg's recent Pride celebrations, he said.
With the proposed district's waterfront views and proximity to Tierra Verde and the beaches, Grimes said it should be attractive to businesses. "We could draw an Olive Garden," he said.
Meanwhile, residents are being asked to vote for a name and logo for the area. Suggestions are on display at the UPS store in the Marina Village Shopping Center.
"I am happy to see it's moving so fast," council member Wengay Newton said, vowing to make sure what is called the 34th Street South Corridor Plan comes to fruition.
Gwendolyn Fields is hopeful.
"Anything that improves the appearance, that brings in more businesses, is a good idea," she said.
The retired Library of Congress librarian owns Vitu International, which sells African artifacts, scarves, jewelry and clothing at Value Fair Market, an indoor shopping bazaar in a former Kmart.
A survey indicates that neighborhood residents want more retail, including home improvement, clothing, houseware and sporting goods stores. They also yearn for full-service restaurants, ice cream and yogurt shops.
The area recently lost its West Marine store, which moved from Bay Pointe Plaza, a shopping center anchored by Publix. Stacy Slater, a spokeswoman for the Brixmor Property Group, which manages the shopping center, said the company is "exploring potential opportunities" for the site. A more concrete commitment has come in the form of an announcement from nearby Maximo Marina, which is preparing for a multimillion-dollar makeover.
In June, Craig Sher, executive chairman of the Sembler Co., the shopping center development and management firm, offered advice to the district's steering committee.
He suggested taking advantage of the area's assets, such as its proximity to the water, Eckerd College and the St. Petersburg College Allstate campus. He also mentioned building higher buildings to market water views, encouraging waterfront restaurants and getting another grocery store.
He spoke about the corridor's "barriers," such as "perception issues" and lower incomes compared with other areas in Pinellas County and Tampa Bay.
"We do have obstacles down here," Tom Ando, president of the Broadwater Civic Association, acknowledged. "But we do have so many positives to overcome those obstacles."
Judy Ellis, Lakewood Estates Civic Association president, told the crowd that what has been achieved so far has been the result of years of effort by neighborhood and business leaders. Council member Steve Kornell has dated the effort to at least 2009, when he began meeting monthly with area leaders to discuss redevelopment hopes.
The formal plan will be presented at an Oct. 15 community meeting. The City Council could adopt it on Dec. 19.
"We'll wait and see what the future holds," Davis said. "However, I think it is important that we support the businesses that are here now. I don't want to wait."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.