The residents of St. Petersburg's sprawling south side don't understand it. A recent survey found there are more than 61,000 households there with a median income of at least $74,000, but quality restaurants and retail stores are scarce.
So after years of neglect, a group of those residents is taking action. They've started a petition to draw attention to that fact.
The residents represent nine neighborhood associations: Bahama Shores, Bayou Bonita, Bayou Highlands, Broadwater, Coquina Key, Greater Pinellas Point, Lakewood Estates, Maximo Moorings and Patriot Square. They started meeting more than a year ago.
Their goal: Persuade more businesses to take another look at the area and its potential.
With the help of Sofia Soralis, the city's economic development manager, they're getting the word out.
"Over the years I know they've been trying to attract more restaurants and retail to the area," said Soralis. "We thought that what would be helpful would be demonstrations (from residents) that there is a need for businesses and that the interest is there."
Few would question that the area has been underserved for years.
The neighborhood associations have grown weary of widespread assumptions that their part of town is unsafe and therefore unsuitable for nice, sit-down restaurants and higher-end shopping.
"I've lived here for 25 years, and we've never had anything like an Outback or anything similar," said Tom Ando, president of the Broadwater Civic Association. "Constantly people are saying, 'When are we going to get something?' "
The Broadwater association was approached by Frank Bozikovich, a retail investment specialist who lives in the neighborhood.
"Years ago, I started looking at properties that could benefit from a better retail mix," he said.
"Over the last five years, I had some success bringing in decent businesses, but not restaurants," said Bozikovich, who has been credited with luring the Aldi supermarket and other shops to the 34th Street Crossing Shopping Center at 2900 34th St. S.
But he says he has struck out when it comes to recruiting Olive Garden, Chick-fil-A, Outback, Macaroni Grill, Carrabba's, Boston Market, Sweet Tomatoes, Five Guys, Ruby Tuesday and Friendly's.
Bozikovich regularly attends meetings of the International Council of Shopping Centers to petition restaurants and other retail businesses to consider the area.
He explained that some businesses are reluctant because the area doesn't meet the "full trade area" standard of the business world. Why? Because part of the area's radius includes Tampa Bay. That's right. In this case, water is a detractor.
Bozikovich contends that rather than looking at "trade areas" or "radius," businesses should consider the time it takes to get to a location.
With the city's help, he initiated a survey to determine how much money households spend outside the home in three key areas of the city: Tyrone, the Fourth Street corridor and the 34th Street area south of 30th Avenue S. The survey showed that each area spends about $2,600 per household per year within a 10-minute drive from home, Bozikovich said, but "Tyrone and Fourth Street have all the restaurants."
Despite the survey's findings, he says, he continued to get the same old song and dance.
"People (south of 30th Avenue S) spend the same amount of money except that we have to schlep up to Fourth Street or Tyrone. I had no (luck in) convincing representatives from some of the better prospects to come here. I started hearing more and more reference to the bad press of the 'south side.' "
So Bozikovich turned to the city.
"Now they're trying to put a positive spin on a decent restaurant to come to the area," he said.
Bozikovich said he has about five prime restaurant sites between 30th Avenue S and the Pinellas Bayway.
But he continues to be stonewalled by restaurants that say that the demographics don't support coming to the area.
On the Walmart site, many in the area, including Ceridian, were hopeful that a restaurant such as Applebee's would go in the retail space. A Regions Bank went there instead.
"I'm hoping that the momentum will take hold to garner the attention of the restaurants," Bozikovich said. "If we brought one of those, then we can go to others … the numbers are there. This area is just as good as Tyrone and Fourth Street … it's a diamond in the rough."
Next week Bozikovich will attend a regional meeting of the International Council of Shopping Centers in Tampa. He said he'll attend a roundtable with retail representatives looking to expand in the area. He'll make his pitch for the area.
"We've been underserved for years, and we just feel our time is now," said Ando.
Sandra J. Gadsden is assistant metro editor/community news. She can be reached at (727) 893-8874 or email@example.com.