Bruce Watters building to fall in BellaBrava expansion


BellaBrava partners have announced they will open a yet-to-be-named tavern at 224 Beach Drive NE, currently occupied by Bruce Watters Jewelers, which will move to a new storefront.

"It's going to be a new concept, but we're not quite ready to release a concept or name. It's still in development," said BellaBrava co-owner Robert Sanderson. "It won't be Italian and you can probably put it in the realm of a 'gastropub.' It will fill a niche that hasn't been filled on the street."

Jim Watters of Bruce Watters says the new showroom will be just a few doors away from the existing store. The jeweler has been at this location for 40 years, but in St. Petersburg for 109. As Watters says of the business, "It's the people, not the building."

And while Watters refers to Beach Drive as "our Rodeo Drive," BellaBrava's announcement underscores the street's shift from retail to restaurants.

From Cassis to Moon Under Water to 400 Beach, the short stretch has an increasingly rich culinary scene. Is there room for another?

"I live on Beach Drive," said Sanderson, "so I'm very aware of the high traffic volume. It has become the center of gravity for the dining and tourist scene and I think it will continue to do that."

Sanderson points to the street park and water views, museums and nearby hotels, plus, he says, "there must be close to 1,000 apartments and condos going up in a 10-block area."

Demolition of the current structure is set to begin in late April. The planned 4,000-square-foot new building will feature extensive outdoor seating (a feature that is de rigueur on Beach Drive).

"Not doing a renovation was attractive to us. That should be the better way to get a built-to-suit space," said Sanderson. Meanwhile, business at BellaBrava and other existing Beach Drive restaurants has been gangbusters this spring.

"The weather has helped," said Sanderson. "It hasn't been too rainy or too hot. Tourists like to sit outside."

Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.