ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Baker unveiled a nearly $700,000 plan Tuesday to enhance security and upgrade the sidewalks and other areas around BayWalk, the city's struggling downtown entertainment complex.
The biggest step, and perhaps the most controversial, would call for turning over the public sidewalk fronting BayWalk to the complex's private, for-profit owners.
BayWalk's owners say they need control of the sidewalk on the north side of Second Avenue N to keep away loiterers and, at times, protesters.
The idea, Baker said, is to help reverse a perception that BayWalk is not safe for families.
"We have to be aggressive to respond to the community's concerns over security," Baker said. "There's a perception of security issues at BayWalk. We have to address that perception, whether it's the reality or not."
The retail and restaurant complex, which opened to great fanfare in 2000, has been plagued by misfortune in the past two years and now sits more than half vacant.
The city's investment would be coupled with an infusion of as much as $6 million from BayWalk's owners — CW Capital of Rockville, Md. — said the local property manager, Thomas McGeachy of Ciminelli Real Estate Services.
The private money largely would go to attract new restaurant and retail tenants, McGeachy said. He would not name prospective tenants, but said in a letter to the city that he hopes to relaunch the complex with new tenants in six months to a year.
The city's investment includes new lighting in the BayWalk parking garage and a security office on its ground floor.
The walkway between the garage and the BayWalk complex has received new lighting. BayWalk's retail manager plans to add vendors to the space during prime business hours.
Besides handing over control of the north sidewalk of Second Avenue N, the city also plans to create a security center inside the BayWalk complex itself.
McGeachy said the security enhancements are critical to rebranding BayWalk and refilling its vacant storefront.
"It's an issue that needs to be overcome before tenants lease space," McGeachy said. "This package is what we've been waiting for. You can talk about it all you want, but until it's on paper and it's out in the public, it's difficult to get prospective tenants to believe it's really going to happen."
And the city would build better pedestrian connections between the BayWalk complex and the retail and restaurant corridor on Beach Drive to the east and to the restaurants and shops to the south.
More than 40 percent of the $657,000 program would be paid for with a federal energy grant, Baker said. The rest of the money would come from existing city funds for downtown projects, city senior economic development administrator Rick Mussett said.
Parts of the plan depend on City Council approval; others are already being implemented, Baker said. The City Council is scheduled to consider the plan Aug. 6.