St. Pete Beach begins detailed study of downtown, Corey areas

Published Sept. 20, 2013

ST. PETE BEACH — A $280,000 consultant study is expected to produce a definitive plan for revitalizing the city's downtown and Corey Avenue areas.

"This is more than talk about ideas and ending up with a list of 10 things that are important," City Manager Mike Bonfield told the commission Wednesday. "This is bringing you into a position to move forward. Your next decision would be to find money for whatever portion you decide to proceed with."

The nine-month study will be conducted by Michael Baker Jr. Inc., an international company ranked among the top 10 percent of the 500 largest U.S. design firms.

The downtown St. Pete Beach planning study will be organized into phases that will involve intense surveys and planning meetings, community meetings and workshops, and print and electronic materials allowing the community to visualize a variety of design concepts.

"We will immerse ourselves in the community, meet with people, host workshops and walk the streets so we can truly understand the values of the community," said Baker's project manager, Susan Harden.

One key proposal: Reconfigure traffic flow in the downtown area to create a one-way couplet of streets. That idea has the initial approval of the Florida Department of Transportation and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council but has raised concerns among both residents and business owners.

For the study, truck-based high-speed lasers will record every feature and dimension of the streets, buildings, sidewalks and landscaping to an accuracy of 0.3 centimeter in the study area — one block north of 75th Avenue to 72nd Avenue and from the Intracoastal to the Gulf of Mexico.

That recording can then be manipulated by computer to demonstrate how different design elements for streets and buildings could transform the area.

The electronic survey alone will cost more than $50,000.

"To me this is the most exciting part of the whole presentation. It's worth the money," said Commissioner Marvin Shavlan.

It also will be a way for the community to discover how a traffic couplet would work and explore alternatives to that proposal.

The commission has designated much of the planning area as a Community Redevelopment Area, which would put the area's growth in property tax revenues in a special fund for public infrastructure projects.

Commissioners unanimously approved this latest planning project, but several strongly urged property and business owners to become involved in the process.

"Without community involvement, we don't have a full picture of what the community wants. We need to have guidance," said Commissioner Jim Parent.

Mayor Steve McFarlin said for the project to work, there needs to be "private buy-in."

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Bonfield said he intends to develop an outreach plan to encourage community involvement, as well as inform "potential investors" he said are "milling around at the edges looking for opportunity."

The 70-year-old firm that will conduct the study has done major U.S. projects such as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia and Pittsburgh International Airport.

The firm has tackled urban planning projects in San Francisco's Mission Bay, downtown Fort Bragg in California, Brookings and Lincoln City in Oregon, downtown Scottsdale, Ariz., downtown Dunedin and Indian Rocks Beach, and has done multiple projects in St. Petersburg and Tampa.