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Groups come together on downtown

Tucked in the offices around downtown St. Petersburg are seven cheerleading squads.

Maybe more.

Each group has a distinct name, a unique angle and its own team of members, but all have one ultimate goal: turning the city's central district into a vibrant, successful downtown.

In a rare meeting Friday, 80 representatives of the various downtown marketing and development organizations, city staffers, and business owners got together to create a single, united strategy.

"We've got a dozen logos, and we're sending confusing messages," said Martin Normile, executive vice president of St. Petersburg Progress. "There's a need for consistency. The constant theme throughout was the immediate need for some cohesive direction for marketing the downtown."

The five-hour "visioning" session on the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus resulted in proposals to stir immediate change for the sometimes sleepy downtown.

Among the ideas:

Create a single marketing and events coordinations office for downtown. There, a single office could look at all the strategies, logos and events and pull them together.

Encourage regular meetings of leaders of each of the downtown groups.

Improve driving and walking patterns downtown by getting rid of some of the one-way streets.

Increase the number of police or security people in the downtown area to remove any perception that downtown St. Petersburg isn't safe.

Consider a shuttle system to carry visitors to downtown shops, museums and attractions.

Create video information displays about attractions at kiosks in the area.

The cheerleading groups include Common Ground, the Downtown Arts Association, the chamber's Downtown Council, the Downtown Core Group, Beach Drive & Downtown Business Association, Jannus Landing Merchants Association and St. Petersburg Progress, Inc.

"Five years ago," Normile said, "St. Petersburg's mentality about downtown was this blockbuster mentality." Projects like baseball, a massive downtown retail district and the stadium dominated, he said. "We're moving into an era of coordination and cooperation in projecting the image of St. Petersburg."

Richard Bradley, the head of the International Downtown Association who led Friday's talks, had been to St. Petersburg two years ago.

Change may not look dramatic here, but it's coming, he said.

"The pieces are beginning to fill in," said Bradley, who visits downtowns all over the country. "It's about dealing with the fabric, the texture, and not the big, blockbuster projects."

Bradley asked members of the meeting to describe downtown in 1989, and then to describe it today. The tossed out suggestions told the story, he said.

St. Petersburg of 1989: "hopeful," "quiet," "sleepy," "dead," and "boring."

St. Petersburg of 1994: "emerging," "waking up," "sprouting," "hopeful."