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A hint of big changes at St. Petersburg's BayWalk

ST. PETERSBURG — The new owner of BayWalk has revealed a few of the plans he has for the struggling retail center he bought in September for $5.2 million. To make the complex more visible and accessible, the two-story, 689-square-foot building along Second Avenue N that houses White House Black Market will be torn down within three months. The box office in front of the Muvico theater will also be razed.

"We plan on totally demolishing the front … to make it more user friendly. When you come down the street (now) you have to go inside to see what's going on," owner Bill Edwards said.

Edwards and Joe Jimenez, managing director of the Edwards Group, are trying to assemble "iconic" anchor tenants before they fill in with smaller restaurants and stores. They want a high-end steak house and are in conversations with Apple and similar-caliber retailers about opening stores.

"I don't think I should have to go all the way to Bern's (in Tampa) to get a good steak," Edwards said while meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Monday. His goal is to provide dining and shopping in St. Petersburg that residents now must drive to Tampa to find.

Although the shopping complex is a ghost town with a handful of stores, downtown's luxury condos and the growing flourish of activity on Beach Drive make BayWalk an intriguing venture for potential retailers. The Edwards Group has hosted several national brand retail and restaurant executives at the Vinoy resort to pitch BayWalk.

"When they made that walk from the Vinoy to BayWalk … they said, 'Why didn't I know about this?' These are people who know retail in Chicago and Martha's Vineyard," Jimenez said.

The name "BayWalk" will definitely be dropped and a new name could reflect a new anchor tenant, he added. White House Black Market will remain a tenant but move, as will its sister store, Chico's.

While Edwards called his $2 million investment in renovating the Mahaffey Theater he manages for the city "financial suicide," he thinks BayWalk will prove to be a smart investment.

"If we get the people we want in there … I think at the end of the day it will make money," he said.

The mortgage magnate plans to formally announce a master plan with a lineup of tenants and architectural changes within three months.

Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or