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St. Petersburg Central Plaza sells for $13 million; owners look to redevelop

The 71-year-old shopping center is set to have mixed-use housing and retail, one developer said.
 
A site plan for the redeveloped Central Plaza in St. Petersburg. The new owners are a development group that includes Eastman Equity, Kettler and Blake Investment Partners.
A site plan for the redeveloped Central Plaza in St. Petersburg. The new owners are a development group that includes Eastman Equity, Kettler and Blake Investment Partners. [ Courtesy of Blake Investment Partners ]
Published March 24, 2023|Updated March 24, 2023

One of St. Petersburg’s oldest shopping plazas has new owners with a vision to reimagine the space.

A group of developers bought Central Plaza, where U.S. 19 intersects Central Avenue, for $13 million on Thursday, according to a copy of the deed provided to the Tampa Bay Times. Part of the plaza could be torn down to build a mixed-use center with retail on the first floor and apartments above it, said St. Pete-based investor Blake Thompson.

“The leases are all kind of tidying up this year so it leaves all this space basically open,” said Thompson, 41. “And that makes it ripe for redevelopment.”

Two businesses on the east side of the lot will be vacated to tear down and build the new complex, he said.

The developers who bought the property at 3365 Central Ave. include Thompson’s Blake Investment Partners, St. Petersburg developer Eastman Equity and Virginia-based Kettler. The 3-acre site was previously owned by Miami-based Saglo Development Corp. Eastman Equity and Blake Investment Partners is working with the YMCA a block away on First Avenue South to redevelop their property and build a “retail village” revolving around the fitness center.

St. Petersburg's Central Plaza in 1954 was a popular shopping destination due to its proximity to Central Avenue and the new U.S. 19 — until Tyrone Square Mall opened.
St. Petersburg's Central Plaza in 1954 was a popular shopping destination due to its proximity to Central Avenue and the new U.S. 19 — until Tyrone Square Mall opened. [ Courtesy of Hillsborough County Public Library ]

Thompson said the Central Plaza and YMCA project are part of creating a new identity for the neighborhood, zoned as the Union Central District, to be health- and transit-oriented. The properties are near the PSTA Grand Central Station and the new SunRunner rapid bus line.

“We’ve got an opportunity to build something that can be done really efficiently and allow us to put the first stake in the ground for an entirely new neighborhood,” Thompson said.

Central Plaza opened in 1952 as highway U.S. 19 — called 34th Street in St. Petersburg — was still under construction. It was built by developer Al Furen and housed many big retailers, including Publix and Singer sewing services, according to Tampa Bay Times archives. It was a shopping destination because of its location in the “geographic center” of St. Petersburg.

But that changed when Tyrone Square Mall opened in 1972 and businesses began to leave in the 1980s, according to archives. The shopping center has gone through several remodels and portions of it have been torn down. It currently houses CitiTrends, T-Mobile, Family Dollar and Hibbett Sports.

The developers aim to make it a community asset and attract shopping brands with interesting concepts that might not be able to afford closer to downtown. Thompson said that he aims to add housing that would also be more attainable to locals than a lot of the luxury apartments being built in downtown St. Petersburg. The apartment complex is set to be seven stories, the site plans show, with more than 300 units.

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“This is an ugly big box building that turned its back to one whole side of the block,” Thompson said. “Those days are over. We’re not building for big corporations that have that criteria.”