ST. PETERSBURG — Plans for a new, higher 40th Avenue NE bridge could bring cascading benefits of larger boats and homes and increased property values for the Shore Acres, Northeast Park and adjacent neighborhoods.
At approximately 13 feet from the underside to the water, the new bridge will be slightly higher than the area's second bridge, which connects Snell Isle to Shore Acres. The estimated cost of the project is $7.8 million.
"As a boater, as a taxpayer, I think it's a good investment for the city to make," said Kurt Petersen, who lives on the north side of the bridge in the Ponderosa Shores neighborhood. "I believe that it will also encourage redevelopment north of the bridge and the building of new buildings at a higher elevation."
Some boat owners on the north side of the bridge have complained that the span in its present state is too low at eight feet above the water and that high tides have stranded them on the south, away from their homes. Raising the height will particularly benefit boat owners and property owners on the north, where there's no access to open water.
Kevin Hayes, deputy of appraisals for the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's office, said it is possible that the new bridge will increase property values north of the span.
"As a general rule, the values are definitely higher on the south than the north," he said. "I think if you can get bigger boats in there, it could have an effect. ... Who knows what kind of a real estate market we will be in when that thing is finished?"
The new bridge is more than two years away. Major work is not expected to start until early 2020 and take 18 to 24 months.
The early phase of the project should begin this spring with the building of an interim pedestrian and bike path that will close the bridge for about six weeks. Plans for the path, which will cost about $485,000, are scheduled to go before the City Council in February.
Raising the height of the bridge is important because it is a major evacuation route, said Brejesh Prayman, the city's director of engineering and capital improvement projects. The project also is key to St. Petersburg's resiliency and sustainability efforts, he said.
The city's decision to rebuild the 57-year-old bridge was triggered by safety concerns. Repairs were being done on the span in 2017 when inspectors found "extensive corrosion of the reinforcing strands in the underside of the bridge center."
The bridge is being funded through Penny for Pinellas, though, said Prayman, the Florida Department of Transportation has "identified the project as a candidate for reimbursement."
Kai Cox, who started the Raze and Raise the 40th Avenue Bridge Facebook page in 2017 and launched a petition that collected 1,400 signatures, is pleased that the project will proceed.
"We live on the water on the north side of the bridge. For years we have been going under the bridge. It looked pretty unsafe from the underside. I sent emails in the past to the city. They said the bridge is fine, there's nothing to worry about. We have little kids, so it's a real safety issue," he said, adding that towing services, police, fire and Coast Guard vessels cannot get under the bridge.
Cox also is a firm believer that home values will rise on his side of the bridge when the height is increased.
Francois "Frank" Gregoire is a state certified residential appraiser who has been in the business since 1977.
"I believe it would have a positive effect on the properties that are on the water north of the bridge," he said.
But Gregoire, a former chair of the Florida Real Estate Appraisal Board, is not sure that there will be a "huge" effect on the approximately 500 waterfront homes north of the bridge.
"It will enable those on the water and have water depth to have slightly larger boats, but as to whether it's going to be a significant increase, I don't know. "
"The only people who are going to be negatively affected are going to be the people on either side of the bridge. It looks to me that the deck height at either end is going to be slightly higher and that's not going to be beneficial to those folks," he said.
To make the bridge higher, the city is proposing to shift its peak west, Prayman said.
''The western approach to the existing bridge is gradual and shifting the peak towards the west allows us to get the higher elevation and not sacrifice the navigable access of the canal," he said, adding that the shift will not affect property owners in the immediate vicinity on either side of the bridge.
Daniel Earles lives in Northeast Park and has a home that sits on the north side of the bridge, near its west entrance.
"From what I can tell, it's going to change the incline. It shouldn't affect any of the properties. ... ''I think everyone is pretty excited about it. Theoretically, it will allow people to buy bigger boats. Ultimately, the bridge is going to be a nicer bridge architecturally and I think, in the bigger picture, long-term, it's going to be better for everybody."
Broker Kevin Batdorf is chair of the Pinellas Realtor Organization and a longtime Shore Acres resident.
Emphasizing that he's not speaking for the Realtor group, he said the new bridge "is probably going to positively affect the values of everybody simply because it's a new bridge and it enhances the look coming into the neighborhood, but to create a building boom, no."
There's no data to indicate that will happen, he said.
"People don't buy homes to park a big boat,'' he said. "They buy homes because they want to live on the water. The amount of properties this would affect is minimal. The difference in the size of boats that they are going to be able to accommodate is negligible in value. They are still not going to be able to put a sailboat there.''