Thursday, April 26, 2018
News Roundup

St. Pete Beach commission hears Corey Avenue ideas

ST. PETE BEACH — Ideas for transforming the city's downtown/Corey Avenue district culminated Thursday with the City Commission endorsing a controversial roadway "couplet" that would dramatically change traffic flow.

On Tuesday, the commission will vote on sharply restricting the types of businesses that could operate in the area.

The businesses to be specifically banned include body art, bail bond, check cashing, automotive sales lots, pawn shops, liquor stores and tobacco shops.

The traffic flow change and the banning of certain establishments are part of an effort to encourage redevelopment that would convert Corey Avenue and the downtown from a deteriorating commercial district to a vibrant destination attractive to tourists, area visitors and city residents.

Last week, the Michael Baker Jr. consulting firm held a series of meetings and walking tours with residents and business owners to explore how redevelopment could change the character of the district.

To date, the firm has taken more than 700 photos and filmed more than 50 videos of the district.

"We found that people don't want the downtown to be way out there, but they don't want it to be dull, either," said Susan Harden, project director. "They want it to be everyone's downtown, to be upscale, but beachy."

Among the ideas proposed were a marine-themed streetscape; unique street furniture; a pedestrian walkway/entrance arch over 75th Avenue; an east to west, water-to-water vista; and a variety of shopping and entertainment experiences.

The couplet traffic system would reduce both speed and the number of lanes in the downtown area, opening up public spaces for small parks, parking and pedestrian walkways.

Redevelopment "wouldn't have the same impact" if the couplet were not part of the plan, Harden said.

"The idea is to have people park once in the downtown area and walk to the different businesses," she said.

"This is a game changer for the city," said resident Michael Lehman.

"After learning more about the couplet, I support it," said resident Deborah Martahue.

Harry Metz, a Corey area business owner and former commissioner, was concerned the couplet would not allow enough room for semitrailer trucks to make the turns.

Deborah Scheckner questioned whether the one-way design would create a bypass, rather than bring more people into the area.

The consultants will return in March with a conceptual plan that would include street-level videos demonstrating how different design ideas would work.

Community reactions would then be incorporated into a plan to be presented to the commission in May for final approval.

The city also is in the process of created a CRA, or Community Redevelopment District, that would allow it to designate future growth in property taxes for use in the Corey/downtown/Gulf Boulevard area.

"We have the most desirable property in Pinellas County. Everybody should be lining up to develop it and nobody is touching it," said Mayor Steve McFarlin. "Instead we have the gateway to the city with adult businesses, chain link fences and fields. Why is that?"

He called the western part of Corey Avenue the "eyesore of the city."

Vice Mayor Lorraine Huhn said she is "over the moon" about the Corey/downtown redevelopment plan.

City Commissioner Jim Parent called some of the ideas "spectacular" and added one of his own — bringing the Secrets of the Sea marine museum and aquarium to the city's now empty police station on 75th Avenue.

The aquarium was slated to move from St. Petersburg to John's Pass Village in Madeira Beach, but the group lost its lease because of delays in financing.

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