Back in February, I wrote that residents from nine neighborhood associations in southernmost St. Petersburg were mobilizing to attract more businesses, particularly sit-down restaurants, in that part of the city.
Signs of progress are on the horizon.
By the end of the month, a St. Pete Hometown Buffet and Grill will open in the former Ponderosa Steakhouse site at 3800 34th St. S.
Residents are buzzing about the new 5,500-square-foot restaurant, which opened another eatery in the Tyrone area at 8305 Park St. about two months ago. Additional locations are in Bradenton, Brandon and Plant City.
"As soon as the papers were signed, they went right to work" renovating the building, said Tom Ando, president of the Broadwater Civic Association. "They're anxious to open and we're happy to see it."
Co-owners Nick Patel, 34, and Howie Vo, 36, both of Plant City, say plans are also in the works to open a restaurant in the site of the former Durango Steakhouse at 3901 Fourth St. N. Vo said he's probably 60 to 90 days away from closing the deal for that location.
Vo, who said they opened their first store in Bradenton two years ago, describes the restaurant as fresh, home-style food that is made from scratch each day. "Our main competition is Golden Corral," he said, adding that St. Petersburg was a draw because "there are no Golden Corral restaurants over here."
The new restaurant signals the pending arrival of several other businesses. And much of the credit goes to the persistence of Frank Bozikovich, 66, a retail investment specialist for Commercial Partners Realty group who lives in the Broadwater neighborhood.
Bozikovich represents the owners of several retail sites in the city's southernmost corridor and continues to work to improve the area's shopping and restaurant choices.
According to Bozikovich, plans are being ironed out for a Dunkin' Donuts to open on a vacant parcel south of the Denny's restaurant at 4000 34th St. S.
As early as next week, Easy Stop, a beverages depot and convenience store, will open in the former site of Subway at 3850 34th St. S.
Also coming soon is Lestrada Design, a high performance race car motor rebuilder that also refurbishes vintage race cars. The company recently purchased an 8,000-square-foot retail building at 3300 38th Ave. S, just behind the Ponderosa site.
No one is happier about the progress than Bozikovich, who continues to correct out-of-date perceptions of the area and maintains that retailers should be looking there.
"Finally, after years of struggling to change the old mentality that the area is crime-ridden or a bad neighborhood, people are finally realizing that these are excellent demographics and a market that is underserved," he said.
"Aldi has one of its biggest stores in the region, which is 18,500 square feet and is doing gangbusters," he said.
To help bolster new businesses in the area, City Council member Steve Kornell — who represents District 5 — said he wants to create a business association similar to the Grand Central District Business Association.
Kornell said he meets with neighborhood association presidents the first Monday of the month to talk about issues in the district. "We've been meeting to talk about other issues, including items coming up before (the) council and typical neighborhood concerns, including codes.
• • •
In anticipation of its move from its iconic waterfront location, the Pier Aquarium in St. Petersburg recently sent a survey to its members and friends. After the City Council's Aug. 26 vote to demolish the Pier in 2013 or 2014, the city urged aquarium officials to look for a temporary home.
The survey includes 14 questions and hints that the facility, which will reopen as the Marine Discovery Center and Aquarium, may not return to the downtown waterfront.
Two questions highlight the point:
• How important is it for the new facility to stay near or on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront?
• If the facility moves away from the downtown waterfront, where should it go? Choices include: St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island, Seminole, the Gateway area and "other."
Sandra J. Gadsden is an assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at email@example.com or at (727) 893-8874.