ST. PETERSBURG — Business owners along the western section of Central Avenue are pleased that plans to improve their thoroughfare are in motion, but declare that they are long overdue.
“This has been 14-plus years in the making,” said Chuck Flynt, corporate officer of several property ownership groups in the district. “It was late last year that the funds were finally made available.”
Referred to as the West Central Avenue Streetscape project, work to make the busy street safer and more attractive to pedestrian and vehicular traffic will target blocks from 58th Street to Park Street.
The cost will be about $6 million for the streetscape work, said Brejesh Prayman, director of the city’s engineering and capital improvements department.
It will be focused on reconstructing curbs and curb ramps, sidewalks and driveways. Crosswalks will be upgraded at four intersections and new ones added, if feasible. Traffic signals at three intersections will be upgraded to mast arms. There are plans for a bike lane. In addition, a water main will be replaced and most meters will be hidden underground. Street lighting is also being upgraded by Duke Energy to LEDs, as part of a citywide conversion. There are hopes for landscaped medians.
“The improvements and streetscape are long overdue for the west side of St. Pete,” said Paul Hsu, who is a partner with Erika Ly and Sandra Ly-Flores in the Alesia, a popular Vietnamese-French restaurant at 7204 Central Ave.
“A lot of money” has understandably been “poured into” the Edge and Grand Central districts, Hsu said, but he hopes plans for his area will bring it “somewhat in line with the rest of Central.”
“Essentially, we just want to have the same opportunities and improvements. I think we’ve proven ourselves in terms of how much we’ve invested in this community, because we truly care,” said Hsu. “The West Central Village District is the largest of all the districts on Central in terms of linear feet.”
Hsu said talk of upgrading the district first occurred during the time when Mayor Rick Kriseman was a council member. “The businesses have ultimately continued to try and hold the county (and) city accountable to the originally promised funding and improvements since 2004,” he said.
The streetscape is being funded with $6 million from Penny for Pinellas, Prayman said. He said the city will spend $3 million for the new water main.
“This district has been requesting this type of improvement for a while. The money is finally here,” he said, adding that the city’s planning department first worked with the district to develop a concept in 2004. Ten years later, the city provided funds to update the plan.
“Once the funding was provided to the city from the county through an interlocal agreement, the city moved forward with the design phase,” he said.
“It’s a long time in coming,” said Paul De Lucia, doctor of Oriental medicine, who moved with his parents to the area in 1973.
“It looks exactly the same. It’s kind of sad,” he said. “We do want to keep the small individual shops, but we would like to see some greenery, make it more pedestrian friendly. Make cars slow down a bit.”
The city describes Central Avenue as “a major east-west connector, where north and south St. Petersburg meet, linking residents and visitors to downtown, to beaches, and all the businesses in between.”
But for businesses along most of West Central, that connection is broken by the Central Avenue Trolley, which takes a detour and bypasses them.
“You will not see a single bus go along this stretch of Central Avenue,” Flynt said. The high traffic road also “lacks good connection for the residents in the neighborhood,” he said, noting that crosswalks are limited and not well marked, lighting is inadequate and medians are few.
“Our big goal has been to improve the safety of the roadway, improve the cosmetics of the area,” he said.
Parking is also a concern, said Hsu, whose Alesia restaurant opened eight years ago.
“We never thought parking would be an issue, but it is,” he said. “With the bike lane on First Avenue S, and our goal to make the area more walkable with landscape, medians and lights, we hope parking will be addressed in the long-term plans.”
Michael Della Penna, who owns Salon Della Penna at 7233 Central Avenue with his wife, Ellna, and has been at that location for 12 years, also has high hopes for what the project will mean for the district.
“As far as aesthetics, I think they are right on target....We are hoping to beautify it and hoping to bring new businesses that are creative,” said Della Penna, who is also an artist and fashion designer.
The city has held workshops and asked businesses and residents to fill out surveys and offer their input. Prayman said their suggestions are being reviewed “to best learn how we can fit all the needs in and reflect the wants of the neighborhood within the budget.”
Work is expected to begin in late 2019 and take about a year to complete.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.