ST. PETE BEACH — Discussion of redevelopment of the city's Corey Avenue/Downtown District will intensify this week as design consultants return to present their initial findings and suggestions in community meetings Wednesday and Thursday.
The Michael Baker Jr. consulting firm, an international company ranked among the top 10 percent of the 500 largest U.S. design firms, has been studying the city's aging downtown since last fall.
The group last met with residents, business owners and the City Commission in November to gather ideas and determine what the various groups want most for the area.
One controversial proposal — rerouting traffic in what officials call a "couplet" of one-way streets — so far has the support of the commission, but with three new members taking their seats Tuesday, all bets are off.
"There are still concerns about the couplet, which should be addressed in the design. These include the potential to make businesses less visible to drivers, possible driver confusion, creating issues on other streets from diverted/shortcut traffic, and disruption to businesses during construction," according to the Baker firm's analysis that will be presented this week.
The firm, though, also talked about "much that could be gained" by using the couplet to increase space for street beautification and on-street parking, to improve traffic flow and to significantly increase pedestrian safety.
The goal of this week's meetings is to focus on the best redevelopment concepts, which the firm will then formulate into a specific set of proposals it will bring back to the city this summer.
Those proposals will use landscaping, design guidelines, signs, gateways and public art to establish a unique look for the Corey Avenue District.
Community members have told the group they want St. Pete Beach's downtown area to be "colorful and alive," with an upscale beach style that is neither "whimsical nor garish." Above all, people want the redesigned "everyone's downtown" area to be accessible and comfortable, the Baker report states.
The area under study extends from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Gulf of Mexico on the east and west, and from 77th to 73rd avenues. The Corey Avenue business district is in the center of the study area.
Baker's report indicates that residents primarily want the area to be more pedestrian friendly, where people could park once and safely walk to all destinations in the area.
Amenities would include extensive signature lighting and landscaping, outdoor dining with flexible "parklets" carved out of roads that can be used for seating, as well as public restrooms.
Events and activities are envisioned to extend from sunrise into the evening. One proposal calls for a fishing pier, boat docks and a marina.
Redevelopment would be encouraged to include businesses, hotels and residences.
"Vacant land and buildings provide key opportunities for redevelopment and reuse. Most obvious is the large parcel at the 'sunrise' end of Corey Avenue," the Baker report states.