ST. PETERSBURG — The city's first commercial block, the longtime home of Jannus Live and an array of bars and restaurants, is widely credited with sparking the city's nightlife renaissance.
But the owners want to transform it into a 25-story residential tower. That could spell the end of the Jannus Live courtyard concert venue.
High-rises are being built all over downtown, but this one won't go up without a fight.
Mayor Rick Kriseman said a recent attempt to protect the block by making it a local landmark district was a battle the city lost. But he vowed to win the war to preserve what he calls St. Petersburg's most historic block.
The high-rise is being pitched by Tony Amico, the majority-owner of the popular downtown block bounded by Second and Third Streets and First Avenue N and Central Avenue.
Last month Amico submitted preliminary plans for the tower, which city planners say are incomplete. St. Petersburg officials said they won't consider the plan until other property owners within the block sign off on it. The Federal Aviation Administration must also determine that the project will not interfere with flight paths for Albert Whitted Airport.
Amico's proposal, the mayor said, just doesn't work.
"It's totally out of character with the surrounding neighborhood," Kriseman said.
The mayor said as long as he's in office, the city won't vacate the alley running down the middle of the block. That would make development difficult, the mayor said.
"I don't need his alley," he said of the mayor. "He's going to stop … me from cleaning up that stinking alley. Okay, I'm in."
Instead of throwing up roadblocks, Amico said, the city should remember his contributions to revitalizing downtown.
"When no one wanted to touch those buildings, I came," Amico said. "I waited for 17 years. I waited and waited and waited. Now they want to take my building rights away from me?"
He is proposing a 300-foot tower. It may include rental units. A 40-60 room boutique hotel is also part of the mix, he said. Amico did not say what the project could cost, but did say that it could net $90 million.
The Jannus Live courtyard is still in the initial plans, and the tower would be built around it. But whether it would remain an outdoor concert venue is the issue. Amico said that remains to be determined.
Downtown residents have already complained about the noise generated by the busy nightlife. But Amico said the lowest residential units of his development would be seven or eight stories above the courtyard. He said noise won't be a concern if the concert venue sticks around.
Entertainment and retail will remain on the ground floor, Amico said, so mainstays like Mastry's Bar could live on in the new development.
"We have room for everybody," Amico said. "We're not trying to chase anybody out."
Meanwhile, preservationists are mobilizing residents to pressure the city to keep the block intact. Some of its structures date to the 1880s. If the city approves Amico's plans, preservationists said, the city will be boxed in from stopping any development. Kriseman's attempt to designate the entire block as historic failed in the City Council on Oct. 20 and city rules prohibit council members from reconsidering their vote.
Amico said he has offered to work with preservationists and offered a compromise: He'll keep the facade of the historic buildings intact. The mayor said that isn't enough.
The project requires approval at several levels, and Amico said he probably won't build anything for years. "I want to know the market is ready," he said. "I don't want to build a building and not have a market."
Contact Charlie Frago at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.