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Grand Central group visits lively streets to learn how

Business and property owners in the Grand Central district want to emulate more active areas, so they took a field trip to Safety Harbor last week to learn from that community's experiences.

"Safety Harbor, like us, has a one-straight-shot main street retail district," said Steve Graves, the executive director of the Grand Central District Association. The district runs along 12 blocks of Central Avenue from Interstate 275 to 31st Street. "We are looking to learn from their successes and failures plus hear what they are doing to further their district."

Safety Harbor has its Main Street like Central Avenue, but it has more of a Mayberry feel to it, in part because it feels small and intimate. The 25 mph speed limit gives drivers a chance to see what's on display.

"It's 25 (mph) on Central, too, but it's really 45," said Nile Latta, a Grand Central member. "How do you slow down traffic?"

Street design is the key, said Ron Pianta, Safety Harbor's assistant city manager and community development director.

His city has enclosed its street parking with frames of curb that it uses as bus stops that also serves to narrow the street. The Grand Central group was talking to the city of St. Petersburg recently about striping options that might help with the same idea.

Special events help bring business to a district and Safety Harbor offers events every year to draw people downtown. The Grand Central group was eager to learn more as it aims to draw the Saturday Morning Market to Central either during the summer or when construction downtown might limit the market's ability to stay there.

"It's real hard when you do a street festival downtown because the businesses don't feel they're involved enough," said Cyndi O'Donnell, the president of the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce. She said one approach is to place vendors in the street facing out toward shops so they don't block storefronts and so visitors can look one way for vendors and the other for fixed businesses.

"It's hard when vendors have to tear down every night," said Brian Longstreth of Grand Central. He said First avenues N and S provide plenty of traffic flow, so closing Central is possible, but Grand Central is just starting to persuade the city. "It's coming along."

Grand Central members also admired Safety Harbor's close cooperation between the city and chamber, made possible by a single main street in a small town.

"It's different, when you have a downtown like you do and the buy in from the city," Graves said, while complimenting the relationship he has with the city staff and is trying to build with the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. "We're a district that's off to the side."

One of the similarities the two areas share is property owners content to leave decrepit buildings alone while others try to improve theirs.

"You can't make them do anything," O'Donnell said. "It leaves holes in your town."

Safety Harbor has a matching grant program to encourage individual property owners to fix up their storefronts. For Grand Central, that's a luxury its members can't enjoy.

"We're almost all self-funded," Longstreth said.

Pianta said the market can also help refurbish or redevelop properties. As an area becomes more popular, which Grand Central has, even the most intransigent owner will want to make improvements.

"At some point," he said, "values will get to the point where they'll sell the building."

Meetings

The Historical Old Northeast Neighborhood Association will have its monthly crime watch report meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 126 11th Ave. NE.

The second part to the Jungle Terrace Civic Association neighborhood cleanup is Monday starting at 7 a.m. City crews will pick up large household items in the area from 22nd Avenue N to Tyrone Boulevard and from 66th Street N west to Boca Ciega Bay. No hazardous materials will be accepted. For information, call 343-2041.

The quarterly meeting of the Shore Acres Civic Association will be Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Shore Acres Recreation Center, 4230 Shore Acres Blvd. NE.

Riviera Bay Civic Association will hold a meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. to discuss traffic calming in the northern section of the neighborhood. Only those residents north of Sunlit Cove are asked to attend. The meeting will be at St. James Church, 845 87th Ave N. Traffic calming in other areas will be addressed at later dates.

The next meeting of the Fossil Park Neighborhood Association is March 7 at 7:30 p.m. at Palm Terrace, 521-69th Avenue N.

The Old Southeast Neighborhood Association is having a community meeting to kick off its annual home tour in April. The catered meeting will be held at Studio620, 620 First Ave. S, on March 9 at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will also cover future events and preview artwork for the Thrill Hill Project.

Readers wishing to submit information for the Neighborhood Notebook can contact Times staff writer Paul Swider either by e-mail at pswider@spttmes.com or by phone at 892-2271. Neighborhood association presidents who would like to publish their organization's information directly to the Web on their own itsyourtimes.com blog should also contact Paul Swider at pswider@sptimes.com.

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