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Oft-ignored Jannus Landing deserves St. Petersburg's help

Turnover at the corner of Central Avenue and Third Street N, now home to Lucky Dill, symbolizes downtown St. Petersburg’s troubles.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Turnover at the corner of Central Avenue and Third Street N, now home to Lucky Dill, symbolizes downtown St. Petersburg’s troubles.

Before Bay Plaza failed to get off the ground in downtown St. Petersburg and long before BayWalk became ground zero for protesters, there was Jannus Landing.

The entertainment complex has included bars and restaurants and an outdoor stage in its courtyard since Oct. 1, 1982.

But city officials who longed for something grander sometimes seemed to treat Jannus Landing like a neglected stepchild. Visionaries in City Hall wanted to showcase the waterfront vistas along the eastern shore.

The recent turmoil at Jannus Landing and the sluggish climate for shops in that block is nothing new.

A case in point is 277 Central Ave. It sits at the corner of Central and Third Street — an anchor for the block, if you will. It also represents a revolving door for establishments.

In 1988, Ruby Osborne closed Ruby's Fashions Inc. at that address after four years. Osborne's reasons for closing varied: She couldn't fight the drunks on Central, the lack of foot traffic and the uncertainty of downtown redevelopment plans.

That was 21 years ago. It seems little has changed.

Chicago Deli later opened at that address but closed in 2000 after a dispute over rent and hours of operation. Next came Asian Grille — a partnership between owners of Crabby Bill's and Fortunato's — which opened in the summer of 2000. By the fall of 2001, owners scrapped the Asian/Thai restaurant theme and opened Alberto's Fusion Bistro, which was also short-lived.

Today, Lucky Dill, now on its third owner, sits in that space. It has been there since 2004.

The space around the corner at 16 Second St. N has seen similar turnover in the past two decades.

A.G. Mingle's failed in the late 1980s. Then there was Club Detroit, followed by the Bayou Restaurant and Bar, which had a Cajun theme and owners from Lake Charles who first came here with the Louisiana-based Picadilly chain.

By March 1997, foodies were cooing over the fare at a new establishment there, Bertoni Italian Restaurant. It was a hit as an upscale eatery whose decor included the big, old brick-lined space that was once the ballroom of the old Detroit Hotel.

But by late November 2004, Dino's, a restaurant and piano bar, had replaced Bertoni's. At the time, Jannus Landing's operator and minority owner, Jack C. Bodziak, said the restaurant would offer a full menu and jazz piano music, but it never became a big draw.

By February 2008, plans were being finalized for the opening of Vintage Ultra Lounge, which is still open.

Emmanuel Roux, who owned the nearby Garden Restaurant for 15 years, blames what he calls a misstep by city officials who have been more focused on larger developments along Beach Drive.

Some city officials realize more needs to be done.

"I think the city's effort was modest at best, especially when you realize how many tens of thousands of people went there (Jannus Landing) on a regular basis," said City Council member Karl Nurse. "If you look back to the past 25 years, Jannus Landing, the Pier, the Mahaffey are the major draws to bringing people downtown.

"Everyone would agree that Jannus (Landing) got less help than anybody else. The challenge with the homeless made things tough.''

A new mayor takes office on Jan. 2. One of the first things Bill Foster should do is order a study of the economic impact of Jannus Landing. The people who own businesses along Central and First Street N will thank him.

Sandra J. Gadsden is editor of Neighborhood Times. She can be reached at (727) 893-8874 or sgadsden@sptimes.com.

Oft-ignored Jannus Landing deserves St. Petersburg's help 12/26/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 26, 2009 3:30am]
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