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Teens may be best hope for BayWalk

Have we been had?

In October, BayWalk got the infamous sidewalk bailout from the St. Petersburg City Council. BayWalk managers lined up tenants to go before the council and argue that a sidewalk free of protesters and lingering teens was needed for them to thrive. As soon as the public sidewalk was ceded to Baywalk's control, its managers showed those tenants the door.

Then just last week several business owners and investors announced that downtown St. Petersburg is where they want to be. At least five restaurants and bars announced plans to open, some by this summer. But all was quiet from BayWalk managers.

When was the last time a bunch of restaurants and bars from Tampa came knocking on the door of the Sunshine City? How about never.

Sure, there was Ovo Café (which preceded Bella Brava). That's the place where patrons paid to be ignored. Ceviche is the only other. But five in the same month?

Meanwhile, plans to have BayWalk management update the City Council on March 18 were postponed because there was nothing substantial to report. (Sigh.)

There could be major deals brewing. But except for a rendering that shows a new paint job of the complex's facade, we've gotten nothing but vague promises.

And for many residents, that's just not enough.

City leaders had the vision to create a task force to discuss next steps for the Pier. But BayWalk is a private entity. No task force for it.

Does BayWalk qualify for eminent domain? For the common good, perhaps it should be considered.

One reader, Rand Moorhead, says he is especially frustrated that Ciminelli Real Estate Services, BayWalk's property manager, seems indifferent about bringing new businesses to the nearly empty complex.

Moorhead, owner of Urban Design Consortium LLC, and others are left with assertions that Splitsville, a bowling alley and dining lounge in Tampa's Channelside complex, might put a similar venue in the upper east side of the complex. Dave & Buster's also has been mentioned, but time will tell.

At least one City Council member seems to agree with Moorhead.

"The sidewalk didn't save it," said Wengay Newton. "Now what?"

The longer the complex remains 80 percent vacant, the more difficult it could be to win back patrons.

"Whatever BayWalk brings in now must be better than Parkshore Grill, Cassis and 400 Beach Seafood to lure customers," Newton said. Add Bella Brava's upcoming move to the corridor, and it's hard to argue with him.

"The problem with BayWalk is that it's not on Beach Drive," he said.

And with Beach Drive teeming with restaurants, why would patrons stroll to BayWalk?

"Their calling was the teens," Newton said. "They packed the movie theaters (at Muvico) but offered nothing for the kids to do when they came out."

Newton sees potential in adding a Splitsville. "If they do bring in a bowling alley, it could be a draw because there's nothing like that downtown," he said. "But I continue to hear that they're basically trying to run businesses out of there. I don't know what they're doing."

Some of the problems go back to vision.

Since BayWalk opened, teenagers have been among the main consumers. But instead of adding a venue or two to keep them occupied and out of the courtyard, BayWalk managers created zany rules about hats and how to wear them.

The original management group, Sembler Co., put a GameWorks (which recently closed) in an already thriving adult party district (Ybor City). It probably was better suited for BayWalk.

Today's reality is simple: Once retail spots are filled along Beach Drive and the new Dalí Museum and Chihuly Collection open, teenagers may be BayWalk's best hope.

At least Muvico is making changes. Its 20-screen complex will have a new section featuring art and independent films, art exhibits and lectures, and a wine and beer bar for people 21 and older.

Newton on why census matters

Few members of the City Council have been as diligent as Newton on getting the word out about the 2010 census. He recently hosted a town hall meeting with guests Barbara Mabee of the U.S. Census Bureau and Bill Griffiths of WorkNet Pinellas. While they weren't the only guests at the Wildwood Recreation Center, they came with the hope of offering jobs.

Newton dubbed the event a job fair. It's too bad so few bothered to turn out, only 15 to 20 by his count.

Newton stresses the importance of turning in census forms. During the 2000 census, the initial mail-back rate for the Midtown area and the county was about 40 percent, a number that climbed to about 70 percent once census workers started going door to door, Mabee said.

"We have a lot of work to do," Newton said. "The city loses $10,000 for every person that is not counted over a 10-year period."

Sandra J. Gadsden is assistant metro editor/community news. She can be reached at (727) 893-8874 or sgadsden@sptimes.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/StPeteSandi.

Teens may be best hope for BayWalk 04/03/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 2, 2010 6:41pm]

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