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A neighborhood's quest gathers early steam // Students get road map to reborn neighborhoods

If anyone in St. Petersburg knows how to wake up a sleeping neighborhood, it is Downtown Core Group creator and president Pat Fulton.

She has beaten the downtown drum for five years with accomplishments to the degree that city officials, talk show hosts and merchants consult her for advice.

She spoke recently to Eckerd College students studying the city as an environment, outlining her plan on "How to Change Your Downtown, a Formula for Activists." Her ideas easily apply to neighborhoods as well as cities.

She encourages would-be activists: "See things others don't see. They will see only boarded-up houses, a deserted downtown. You can see a picture of what it could be like."

She advises a physical survey, making notes along the way. The Downtown Core Group did this in two "Saturday Strolls."

"Start somewhere _ don't take in the whole neighborhood or the whole downtown at once. Be realistic and optimistic. Beach Drive did not need our help. Jannus Landing was our critical mass, and the 600 block of Central Avenue." Both these areas had some successful businesses but needed attention.

"We asked ourselves, "Can we get these buildings painted, can we get the city to bring in garbage cans, more lighting, change the one-hour parking?' " All these small goals were accomplished once merchants were united and caught each other's enthusiasm, and desires were repeatedly made known.

A graduate of St. Petersburg schools, Ms. Fulton got involved in her efforts when she returned here in 1990 after a long absence and saw the deserted downtown area.

Assessing people is an important part of getting the job done, Ms. Fulton said. "Find the idea people, the helpers, the contact people. Be aware of the brain-dead and the spectators. Avoid the beautiful people. They do not perspire. They will not get dirt under their fingernails or paint a house or get involved."

And when you have accomplished something, "tell the press. Give credit where credit is due. Put people's names in a newsletter, a neighborhood paper. Point out the visible changes."

And last, instead of becoming discouraged, "come up with another approach _ have a Plan B, C and D. It's faith and belief. Even if you just do a small thing, that feels good. Enjoy it."