The adulation gave Mike Silva goose bumps. Who knew that a Dunkin' Donuts shop could elicit such emotion?
But for the crowd gathered Tuesday night to kick off revitalization efforts for the southernmost end of 34th Street, Silva's popular coffee shop epitomized their hopes.
Any reference to Dunkin' Donuts brought applause from the people who had assembled from surrounding neighborhoods, including Pinellas Point, Broadwater, Lakewood, Bayway Isles and Patriot Square condominiums.
"That was so cool," Silva said the next day.
"We wanted to be on the south side because we saw the opportunity,'' he said. "Every week it's been getting a little bit busier."
The coffee shop's success is an encouraging sign for what is being referred to as the 34th Street South Corridor Plan, which aims to increase retail and redevelopment opportunities, boost profits and give residents more places to shop and eat. The area also hopes to create a distinctive district.
The targeted 1.5-mile stretch runs from 30th Avenue, with Ceridian and Walmart at the northern boundary, to 54th Avenue, with Publix and Maximo Marina the most prominent businesses to the south.
City staff hope to have a plan ready to present to the City Council on Dec. 19, with implementation to begin shortly after.
"It's an aggressive schedule," said Tom Ando, president of the Broadwater Civic Association.
"We've been waiting a long time for it,'' he said. "The turnout and the enthusiasm of the crowd says it all. The area has been underserved and the people want more. "
Council member Steve Kornell said the effort started with neighborhood leaders with whom he has been meeting monthly since he was elected in 2009.
"What I heard from people in my district over and over again was they wanted development on 34th Street, especially restaurants," Kornell said.
He later took his concerns to the city staff and fellow council members. "The city has fully embraced it and is fully behind it," he said.
Welcoming the crowd of about 250 people at the St. Petersburg College Allstate Center on Tuesday, Mayor Bill Foster called it "an incredible turnout."
Council chairman Karl Nurse emphasized the urgency to get the plan going.
With the economy on the upswing, he said, "it is critical that we catch this wave."
Council member Wengay Newton, who started his talk with a prayer, noted that recent redistricting had made much of the area part of his district and spoke of the need to put more emphasis "on this part of the city."
The ambitious plan, which could include landscaping, crosswalks, signs that designate the new district, new pedestrian and street lighting, and handicapped ramps, will need money.
"Funding for the improvements will either come from the city's general revenue fund or the Florida Department of Transportation," said Gary Jones, senior planner in the city's economic development department.
Kornell said he will not wait until the plan is ready before asking that funds be set aside in the city's capital improvements budget for some projects.
A key will be selling the area, he said.
"I think an overall theme, marketing and branding is needed ... telling people what is actually here," Kornell said.
"Those of us who actually live there, we know what wonderful attributes the neighborhood has,'' he said. "It's very diverse, near to the water. Once businesses realize their opportunity here, they are going to come."
Jodi Davis, president of the Greater Pinellas Point Civic Association, and Judy Ellis, Lakewood Estates Civic Association president, also addressed the crowd last week.
Davis said development of the 34th Street S corridor will benefit surrounding neighborhoods.
"I think the No. 1 thing we have to offer is our amazing demographics, our diversity No. 1, accessibility to the highway, two colleges. I really believe we have the demographics, income-wise to support any kind of businesses," she said.
"Really our No. 1 goal is to create the business association to spread the word, to improve the retail experience and basically create a new identity,'' she said. "A lot of that false perception of the south side is just a myth and it needs to end here. As the project grows, it's going to snowball."
Kathy Kindt, owner of Chic Boutique and Art, 5004 34th St. S, sits on the steering committee.
"My hope for this plan is to build up our businesses, improve the aesthetics of 34th Street, hopefully draw in new, diverse businesses. Having the city sponsoring this, that's a positive thing," the retired critical care nurse said.
A formal plan is important, Jones said.
"This will be a marketing piece to show people and developers outside the area that there's a commitment from all parties to improve the area and to share the vision. But ultimately, it is a blueprint for this area that we can all follow. ... We are trying to create a place, create a district, create something. When you say Ybor City, you know where it is, what it is about."
Silva, who owns two other area Dunkin' Donut stores, says his store at 3850 34th St. S is unique.
"Even the customer base is a little different. They are excited that you're there. That makes us part of the family," he said. "I will do whatever I can do as a business owner to make this area more appealing."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.
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34th Street S Corridor
(30th to 54th avenues)
28,000 daily vehicle trips on 34th Street
54 chain establishments
32 retail stores
28 vacant storefronts
1 academic institution
5 personal service establishments
4 automotive service businesses
4 self-storage businesses
2 grocery stores
2 gas stations
1 condo development