ST. PETERSBURG — BayWalk's control could soon extend from the public sidewalk facing its main entrance through the public land fronting the city's nearby parking garage.
Months after the City Council ceded a public sidewalk fronting BayWalk to its owners, city officials are now arranging a management deal that would allow BayWalk to oversee the public promenade leading to the struggling downtown entertainment complex.
The promenade had been managed by BayWalk's former owner, investor Fred Bullard. City officials said Bullard has agreed to give up his management deal if City Hall forgives the more than $40,000 in debt he owes the city.
The promenade connecting BayWalk and a city parking garage would remain public land. Under the plan, BayWalk would manage the area, controlling pedestrian traffic and overseeing retail kiosks.
"We are not going to give it to them," stressed Rick Mussett, the city's development administrator. "They will manage it."
The effort is part of Mayor Rick Baker's multipronged plan to revive BayWalk.
Once prosperous and grand, the movie theater and retail complex is now mostly vacant, its reputation tainted by complaints of disrepair and mismanagement.
BayWalk's original owners were granted authority over the promenade at the inception of the project, when the city assembled land to help the entertainment complex get off the ground.
But BayWalk's ownership splintered, leaving the structure anchored by Muvico theaters under one corporation and the retail area surrounding the city's garage and the promenade under Bullard's control.
Rejoining the land will make it easier to manage, city officials said.
"This is something that we need to do so there is some control over that promenade," said council member Leslie Curran.
But the move rested uneasy with council member Wengay Newton, a longtime critic of the revitalization effort.
"I'm just curious as to what happened to all those big tenants and that the world was going to fall apart without that sidewalk," said Newton, citing BayWalk's promise to rope in new vendors if the sidewalk was ceded.
BayWalk might not be able to announce any new tenants for at least another month, said property manager Thomas McGeachy.
"If it were not for the vacation of the sidewalk, we would not be meeting with these folks now," he said, adding that the uncertain economy has slowed the negotiation process.
"I think you answered my question," Newton said. "It was the economy, not the sidewalk all along."
City officials will vote on transferring the public promenade at a future meeting. That deal will likely not take place until after BayWalk has named a handful of new tenants and comes up with a firm business plan.