Anyone who’s visited Miami recently likely knows of Wynwood, a former manufacturing warehouse district that was transformed into a hipster mecca known for its colorful murals and trendy shops and restaurants — including an ultra-popular taco joint that was once visited by former President Barack Obama.
Joe Furst, who oversaw financing, development and leasing initiatives in Wynwood for the development company that had a major hand in the area’s makeover, has recently set his sights on St. Pete. About a year and a half ago, he bought about nine acres of land for redevelopment along 22nd Street S, from 1st to 6th avenues, within the bounds of the Warehouse Arts District.
Furst, who is now the founder and managing principal of Place Projects, said his primary goal is for the area to become a connector between Central Avenue and the vibrancy to the south in both the Warehouse Arts District and the Deuces’ historic 22nd Street S district, which was a hub for Black businesses during segregation. The Deuces Live District is from 2nd Avenue S to 18th Avenue S, with its main street stretching from 8th Avenue S to 15th Avenue S.
“When I came to St. Pete, it was so obvious how great the opportunity was and is,” he said, citing both what he sees as good infrastructure and public amenities as well as as interesting neighborhoods. “It was just a super compelling place to be.”
But a major hurdle for developing that stretch of land is its zoning, an issue first identified by a joint action plan created by the Warehouse Arts District and the Deuces Live, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to the revival of the historic neighborhood. Furst used that action plan and hired the same consultants that were used to develop it, and emphasized that his proposal also belongs to those two community groups as well as other property owners who are working together to create a “unified idea.”
The land is zoned for industrial, a vestige of the 1950s when industrial land would mean manufacturing jobs for nearby residents, Furst said. Now, that zoning creates a “moat” of non-pedestrian friendly, sometimes vacant land that separates Grand Central from the Warehouse Arts District and the Deuces, he said. Currently, there are businesses in some of the large buildings in the area, which also features a section of the Pinellas Trail — such as the Morean Center for Clay, Vintage Marche and American Freedom Distillery — but other lots sit vacant.
The plan spearheaded by Furst proposes that the area be zoned under a new classification, called “industrial mixed use,” or “I-mix,” which would allow for some industrial businesses requiring large spaces, like art studios and breweries — but would also allow for more retail, plus housing. Industrial mixed use zoning has been adopted in some cities, such as Atlanta, Nashville and Baltimore, but doesn’t currently exist anywhere in Tampa Bay.
“I applaud what he is doing,” said Mike Harting, owner of 3 Daughters Brewing, which sits on one of the lots included in the plan. “In the end, I think that this makes this a more retail-friendly street and a more traveled thoroughfare. Our business will benefit from it in the long run.”
Harting said he’s been impressed with how Furst sought out the input of the affected small businesses as well as others in the community, including by holding town hall-like events via Zoom.
“He was very open about soliciting feedback from the neighborhoods around, like ‘As this project progresses, if it gets off the ground, this is the idea ... how can this benefit you, and do you have any concerns about it?’”
The Deuces Live is listed on Furst’s website for the project, 22imix.com, as supporting the idea for the new land use.
Veatrice Farrell, the executive director, said Furst’s incorporation of the ideas previously raised by her group helped generate that backing among Deuces Live’s board.
“We can’t argue with the fact that he said, ‘Let me see what they wanted to do, let me hire the people who helped with their plan to inform what I want to do,’” she said.
The land included in the plan is also slated to include a future stop of the Bus Rapid Transit line, also known as SunRunner, which will connect downtown St. Pete to St. Pete Beach. Furst said the stop solidified his decision to get involved in this area and create a district oriented around transit.
So what does this new vision for this area actually look like? A few renderings show bustling streets and prominently feature the Pinellas Trail. But some of the specifics remain fuzzy because the concept of re-zoning is contingent on the approval of multiple government agencies, including the City of St. Petersburg, Forward Pinellas and Pinellas County.
Will it be another Wynwood?
“I wouldn’t say it’s totally different but it’s not analogous at all either,” Furst said, noting how art and murals were the catalysts for Wynwood’s growth, while in St. Petersburg it’s more about transit and connecting neighborhoods.
For now, Furst is working to generate enough support so that some of the government’s long-range plans, like St. Petersburg’s Vision 2050, will include the flexibility needed to create the new zoning category.
“To do this in St Petersburg is the most complicated process that I’ve ever embarked upon,” he said. “But everybody that we speak with understands and appreciates why these things need to change. It’s just a matter of figuring out what the right course is to make that happen.”
St. Petersburg City Council vice chair Gina Driscoll said despite there being several steps to the approval process, she’s “confident that this will come to fruition.”
“It simply makes sense for St. Petersburg, as we become more and more popular we need more spaces for residents, more spaces for businesses,” she said. “This is creating a new hub of activity in an area that’s really underutilized now.”
Driscoll said the city council could vote on the new zoning proposal as early as this summer, when the council will be taking up a package of land use development changes.