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Boatyard Village dreams of hereafter

Published Sep. 10, 1995|Updated Oct. 4, 2005

Hidden behind mangroves and hangars just west of St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, there's a financial dud called Boatyard Village.

The new manager, though, has plans to transform this struggling waterfront shopping center into something completely different.

Think of it as Ybor City or Pleasure Island, but Largo-style.

"We see the success of the Turtle Club, which is packed frequently," said Floyd Johnson, hired in April to manage the village. "We feel the market is there for young people with discretionary income."

Johnson has compiled a strategy for turning his place into a hot gathering spot for people ages 18-35, much like the Turtle Club, a nightclub across Cross Bayou Canal.

He hopes to attract nightclubs, bars and dance halls featuring rock, blues, country and Latin music.

He envisions crowded boardwalks where people will wander past shops offering handmade jewelry, crafts, clothes, flowers, food and ice cream.

Arcades? Two of them. One would have several virtual reality setups, the latest in video games.

And, he says, there would be a magic shop and a fortune teller. Even a public address system pumping in popular hits from the past three decades.

"You get the theme we're aiming for here?" Johnson asked.

The goal, he said: To make Boatyard Village, built 20 years ago to resemble an old fishing village, a destination point.

Johnson hopes to open the entertainment center sometime in late spring or early summer.

It would be quite a change for the ghost-town-on-the-water shopping enclave.

It was once home to 40 stores, but less than a dozen retailers now do business there. Many of the tenants are business offices or service industries, which don't bring much pedestrian traffic.

Just 47 percent of the units are occupied, Johnson said.

The war-theme 94th Aero Squadron, a restaurant next door to the village, still attracts crowds. But in May it filed under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code for protection from its creditors.

The company that owns the village, Anaheim, Calif.-based Specialty Restaurants Corp., also filed under Chapter 11, in 1993. The company subleases property to the 94th Aero Squadron.

Specialty Restaurants officials say they plan to emerge from bankruptcy sometime next month, in time to begin work on Johnson's plan. The company operates 47 restaurants nationwide, including four in the Tampa Bay area, said John Tallichet, vice president for real estate.

The 14-acre plot, in an unincorporated section of the county near Largo, is owned by the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

When the Bayside Bridge opened in 1993, retailers thought it would boost business by making them more accessible from all parts of the county.

But it never happened. Instead, the new road configuration made matters worse.

Those coming off the bridge from Clearwater are forced to make a U-turn on crowded Roosevelt Boulevard to find the entrance. And even then, drivers must make a series of turns to find Fairchild Drive, which winds its way toward the village.

"We didn't see any advertising," said Mary Lou Phitzer, who with her husband, Bob, were the only customers in sight Wednesday afternoon. "We couldn't even remember how to get here.

"We thought it was deserted."

Johnson plans on changing that, too. A lighted billboard will go up soon on Roosevelt Boulevard.

Some retailers in the village say the manager's plan could save their businesses.

"There are some days I sit here and do absolutely nothing but my knitting," said Alva Booze, owner of Alva's Purse Shop. "We need more retailers and more activities."

Some tenants, though, aren't desperate.

Jack McIntosh, who owns the Village Gem Shop, said businesses would draw more people if they offered something worth the drive.

"True rock people will find the Gem Shop," he said. "I'm doing just fine here. If it gets any busier, I might leave."


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