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  1. St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg's proposed plan for storefronts, which has critics, is up for City Council vote

Mayor Rick Kriseman is trying to preserve Central Avenue’s vibe.  [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times (2017)]
Mayor Rick Kriseman is trying to preserve Central Avenue’s vibe. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2017)]
Published Apr. 17, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — A group of property owners and developers in the city's downtown say a plan that includes promoting independently owned businesses and preservation of historic buildings along parts of Beach Drive and Central Avenue still needs work.

They will get their say today, when the City Council will vote to amend St. Petersburg's Land Development Regulations to establish its Storefront Conservation Corridor plan.

The plan, which encompasses Beach Drive from Fifth Avenue N to First Avenue S and Central Avenue to 31st Street, also includes maintaining pedestrian-friendly streetscapes.

"I am determined as ever to support our small businesses and the character of Central Avenue while ensuring both business owners and property owners continue to thrive in St. Pete," Mayor Rick Kriseman said in a statement.

"This innovative overlay is the result of an exhaustive community conversation and plenty of compromise. This isn't the complete answer to our growing pains, but it will be an important tool to help us maintain the vibe on our most popular streets."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: St. Pete vs. chain stores, part II: Kriseman pitches new approach

Mack Feldman of Feldman Equities said the city has good intentions.

"They are coming at it from a right place. We want to keep Central Avenue cool and preserve its character and everyone wants to support local businesses, but the problem is the unintended consequences," he said.

Feldman and his father, Larry, and their partners own the BB&T Tower — First Central Tower — the Northern Trust Building and the Morgan Stanley building across from the Sundial.

"The city staff has been saying it is a first of its kind initiative," Feldman said, adding, though, that no third-party study has been done about a proposal that "is going to have an impact for generations."

The Feldmans and property owners say they are committed to paying for "a substantial portion of a study" that could examine how other cities that have handled similar growing pains "and make recommendations that help small businesses preserve Central's character and protect property rights."

Criticism also is coming from a couple of members of one of the city's well-known families. Nancy Rutland and her son, Jason Rutland Spitzer, have sent a letter to each City Council member outlining their disagreement with what is being proposed.

The mother and son — granddaughter and great-grandson of Hubert Rutland Sr., a banker, businessman and philanthropist — operate their family's 18,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space in downtown St. Petersburg. Most of that property is in the 600 block of Central Avenue, with the remainder in the 500 block of First Avenue N.

A Rutland family trust owns retail, restaurant and office space on the 500 blocks of Central Avenue, First Avenue N and Sixth Street.

Broadly, the new ordinance will regulate the size of storefronts that can open on the specified Central and Beach Drive blocks. The plan would establish a minimum requirement and maximum width for pedestrian level, publicly accessible storefronts.

If the ordinance passes, the city code would limit how many medium (21-40 feet) and large (40 feet and up) storefronts could exist on each block. There is no maximum for small store fronts (0-20 feet).

Jason Spitzer said aspects of the plan are unfair, including "bundling" of 600 and 700 blocks of Central Avenue. He notes that each corridor has different percentage allowances for small, medium and large spaces based on their individual matrixes, and that has a negative effect on the 600 block.

"They're the only two blocks in this entire plan that have been bundled together," he said, adding that the city has said that's because of the unique way that Seventh Street jogs on Central Avenue.

"Our argument is that there are other jogs on Central. It is focused on the 600 block because of the success we have had. Because it has become such a great destination.''

Feldman said any new office building on Central must include a retail component, but forcing new development to have small retail boxes "devalues the property and makes new office development that much harder to accomplish."

The ordinance will prevent local businesses from growing, he added. "Feldman Equities has a tenant in First Central Tower, The Lemongrass, that has expanded in the past. Under the existing plan, they would be prohibited from further expansion," he said. "The Lemongrass is a locally owned, independent business.''

The plan also could cause rents to rise, because of higher buildout costs, Feldman said.

"If a landlord with a 40-foot-wide retail box — The Lure and Cider Press Café are examples — splits that space into two 20-foot boxes, he needs to build out two sets of bathrooms, two kitchens, more walls," he said.

In a letter to the council, Preserve the 'Burg said it generally supports the proposal "and commends the city for embarking on steps to create another tool that seeks to conserve the physical character of our popular pedestrian-oriented corridors while also reinforcing the importance of St. Petersburg's local small-scale business sector located along these special places."

The group, believes, though that the ordinance could more effectively achieve these goals by creating and focusing on incentives for adaptive reuse and for using and applying the city's historic preservation overlay ordinance.

The public hearing for the ordinance is set for 6 p.m. at City Hall today.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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