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St. Petersburg's BayWalk: the true cost of a ghost town

BayWalk’s owner, CW Capital Asset Management, is selling the once-vibrant entertainment center for a fraction of the $20 million taxpayers have put into it.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

BayWalk’s owner, CW Capital Asset Management, is selling the once-vibrant entertainment center for a fraction of the $20 million taxpayers have put into it.

ST. PETERSBURG — Since October 2009, residents of St. Petersburg have been asking: What's the deal with BayWalk?

Well, we now know. The once-vibrant entertainment center is for sale.

The current owner, CW Capital Asset Management, is asking $8 million, a mere fraction of the $20 million taxpayers have put into it.

The 74,500-square-foot complex opened in 2000 and at one time housed 40 businesses. On a walk-through Friday, I counted only four shops and one restaurant: GameStop, White House Black Market, Chico's, the Birkenstock Shop and Tokyo Sushi Cafe.

How very sad.

So here we are, more than a year after hearing many promises that the complex would be turned into an entertainment mecca. Instead we're left with a ghost town of a complex just one block from a bustling Beach Drive.

Back in April 2010, BayWalk's managers told the City Council that they were on the verge of some action — major signings.

The only real action we've seen pertaining to BayWalk was the Oct. 13, 2009, fist fight at the end of a council vote. That's when Frederick Dudley and Ronald Deaton were arrested moments after the council's 5-3 vote to cede the public sidewalk in front of BayWalk to its owners to help rid it of the protesters and loitering teens who were blamed for hurting attendance there. Dudley is the older brother of council member Bill Dudley and a supporter of the council's decision.

The only other thing worth noting — not counting the mass exodus of shops leaving the complex — was when one business, hermanHOME, moved in and then out of the complex.

"We've been bamboozled," said council member Wengay Newton, who said he wasn't certain of the asking price. "Is it $8 million or $2 million?"

"When they first came before council, they were dangling a $6 million figure to spend in upgrades (at BayWalk). The last time they came to council they said they didn't spend any of it," said Newton, one of the three council members to oppose ceding the sidewalk to BayWalk. The others were Leslie Curran and Jeff Danner.

"It was all smoke and mirrors, when tenants from BayWalk came before council saying 'without ceding the sidewalk, the complex would fail,' " said a frustrated Newton. "So now they want to make $8 million and go back to Baltimore."

Since the current owners are bailing, what's the chance of the sidewalk being returned to the public?

"I don't believe we've given the sidewalk away because the condition precedents didn't occur," said council Chairman Jim Kennedy.

Huh?

Kennedy, an attorney, says since BayWalk never lived up to the stipulations in the sidewalk agreement, he thinks the sidewalk was never officially ceded. The owners were given two years to revitalize the complex in order to meet the conditions in the agreement.

"As I understand it, if somebody else comes in and fulfills all the condition precedents in the two-year time frame (which ends in October), then the sidewalk will be ceded," he said.

Mayor Bill Foster agreed.

"That is true. We tied this vacation to development. As of today's date, the sidewalk hasn't been officially vacated," he said.

"If something happens before October, then there's probably no going back" to a public sidewalk, said Foster, who added, "In the likelihood that we don't see some movement, then it's back to the drawing board."

So does this mean security guards at BayWalk are out of line when they order people off the sidewalk?

According to Newton, teenagers can go to Muvico at BayWalk to see a movie, but they are being forced to the south side of Second Avenue N to wait for their parents to pick them up. If they don't leave the sidewalk, they can be cited for trespassing, which prohibits them from coming back to BayWalk in the future, said Newton, who recently witnessed it during a family outing.

So what happens with BayWalk now?

"The city will do whatever we can to encourage it (development), but it's private property," Kennedy said.

"I'm still working hard to meet and secure prospects," said Foster.

• • •

Last week I shared an encounter I had with Mark Maksimowicz, the owner of New Earth Industries, a company best known for its Watergoats, floating booms that collect solid trash as it flows out of stormwater pipes.

On Thursday, he wrote that the folks at the Boley Center expressed interest in teaming up with him to institute a program to help young people in distressed neighborhoods such as Campbell Park, Jordan Park and Midtown.

According to Maksimowicz, Boley had been searching for a legitimate "green" business to partner with, and "there is a good chance that we may be able to start the world's first water-based debris removal service, right here in St. Petersburg." They held their first meeting Friday afternoon.

The Boley Center has identified more than 100 young people, ages 18 to 27, who are looking for a fresh start. He said he hopes to include agencies like the Tampa Bay Estuary, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Environmental Protection Agency.

"This will allow these young people to be exposed to a wealth of opportunity, earn a few dollars and build some self-confidence," he said.

When young people benefit, there's hope in building a better community.

Sandra J. Gadsden is assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at sgadsden@sptimes.com or at (727) 893-8874.

St. Petersburg's BayWalk: the true cost of a ghost town 03/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 19, 2011 5:31am]

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