ST. PETERSBURG — The new Skyway Marina District has hired one of its own to promote its merits and attract new businesses, jobs and visitors to the southernmost stretch of 34th Street S.
Linda Bowler will start her job in a few days, benefiting from an initial $50,000 the City Council allotted to create a full-service business organization to help redevelop an area residents say has long been neglected.
"Ideally, I always thought it would be nice to have someone come from within the district," said Tom Ando, president of the Broadwater Civic Association. "I think the fact that she's built a home in Broadwater fairly recently, she's invested in the area."
Bowler is winding down her telecommunications job in Tampa and says she wants to make the Skyway Marina District a destination. "I want to see changes made in my neighborhood," she said.
Money, including an estimated $4.5 million in capital improvements, will dictate the timing of some of those changes. Top priorities for the new Skyway Marina District are construction of three "gateways" leading into the 1.5-mile 34th Street corridor between 30th and 54th avenues S. Landscaping of rights-of-way and medians is also considered a key improvement. A grant from the Florida Department of Transportation will pay for the plantings, said Gary Jones, a senior planner in the city's economic development department.
Also taking precedence is work on the intersection at 34th Street and 54th Avenue S, where traffic converges in the vicinity of a busy 7-Eleven and a CVS and heads toward Eckerd College, Tierra Verde and St. Pete Beach. Some of these high-priority projects will begin in 2015, Jones said.
Improvements with less urgency include pedestrian lighting, additional sidewalks and public art. Neighborhood leaders hope that plans to spruce up and update the stretch will attract businesses, offices, visitors and even new residents to the area that touts its waterfront communities, proximity to the beaches, highways and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
A $50,000 incentive to lure a sit-down restaurant is being proposed in St. Petersburg's upcoming budget. It's an amenity that residents in surrounding neighborhoods, among them Broadwater, Pinellas Point and Lakewood, have rated high among their wants.
Council member Steve Kornell, who has been working with neighborhood and business leaders for several years, said he feels good about the progress that has been made.
"I think the public has worked very hard on this. I think council has taken notice of the need of the area," he said.
"My only concern is that we need a threshold of investment that makes it look different. Because we could spend significant sums of money and still not have the corridor look different. We need to reach a threshold of making it look better quickly and I think businesses will come, because the underlying economics are good."
The targeted 34th Street S blocks include several large, underdeveloped properties, though some new businesses are taking root. One is a new assisted-living facility and another is a medical office. Maximo Marina, just west of 34th Street, is undergoing a multimillion-dollar makeover.
The district's plan, 100-plus pages, outlines ways it hopes to accelerate business interest.
"We are taking the current zoning limits and allowing additional development," Jones said, adding that multistory buildings of up to 12 stories will be encouraged for offices, apartments, retail space, restaurants and hotels.
Bowler, who will be assisted by Eckerd College interns, will have an office at the Flamingo Resort, 4601 34th St. S.
Tom Grimes, with the Skyway Marina Business Association and hospitality and marketing director at the Flamingo, said the district envisions success similar to that of the 4th Street Business District and the Grand Central area.
"We're hoping to get a couple of anchor stores and restaurants in there and others will follow," he said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.