Urban Advisor

All about rebuilding communities and restoring hope.

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Saint Petersburg, Florida, United States

34th Street South Continued...

Ok, back to 34th Street South in St. Pete...

So one of the things that is sure to come out of the 34th Street redevelopment is streetscaping - wider/decorative sidewalks, seating, light fixtures, pavement designs, etc.

I spent a family vacation in Orlando this past week - specifically Lake Buena Vista and Kissimmee. While there, I saw what should NOT be done with 34th Street. Take a trip down US 192 in Kissimmee, better known as Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, and you will see. What may have been a neat-looking installation of brightly colored light posts, mile markers and bus shelters, now looks tacky and dated in my opinion. The same could be said, dare I say, for the stretch of Central Avenue right here in St. Petersburg between MLK and 16th Street in the formerly Dome District, now called EDGE district. The bright colored sidewalks and light fixtures are more appropriate for the beach community or some cheesy tourist district than an established (or establishing) urban district in a major city.

When approaching things like streetscaping - which is the main thing the municipality can do in terms of direct impact on the built environment in the 34th Street South district - planners and involved residents should look to turn 34th Street South into a "complete" street. Complete streets address all modes of transportation - private vehicles, bicycles, public transportation and pedestrians. There is landscaping, shade and seating.

To do this, I recommend the following

Consider the road diet

This may be the most "radical" thought. However, 34th Street South operates far below capacity, and may continue to do so, even with the redevelopment of properties along the stretch. Removing a lane of vehicular traffic would not create any bottlenecks or significantly impact congestion at all, in my opinion.

Replace a vehicular lane with a buffered bicycle lane

Adding a buffered bicycle lane adds an amenity not found anywhere else in the city. It is also an opportunity for additional landscaping beyond the medians, and adds an additional buffer between vehicles and pedestrians

Widen sidewalks and add seating in various locations

Although alone they may not increase pedestrian activity, they certainly make walking a more pleasant experience. Combined with the bicycle lane, pedestrians should feel good about walking the district. Also, seating should be added at various locations. This can be in the form of free-standing benches as well as seating built into retaining walls near intersections.


Of course landscaping, lighting, paving, bus shelters, way finding and seating should be built around a theme for the district. My only recommendation is to choose a timeless theme and use timeless decorative features that will not look outdated in 10 years. A tropical look with lush landscaping as the main feature supported by lighting, paving and seating I think will fit well in this area surrounded by waterfront neighborhoods to the west, and wooded neighborhoods to the east. It will also be a nice, distinctive contrast to the harder-surfaced areas of 34th Street to the north.

I may expound on these ideas more within this post. There are lots of good resources on Complete Streets. As planning moves forward, I highly recommend these be consulted.

But more to come on 34th Street South about potential funding mechanisms and other regulatory ideas.

Shared Parking for Industrial Businesses

Before we continue with 34th Street, I wanted to put this idea out there...

Pinellas County leaders are concerned about increasing employment opportunities for its residents. One way leaders see to prevent this is to prevent (where possible) underutilized, vacant or abandoned industrial and commercial properties from being redeveloped into residential uses, usually multifamily developments. Also we have the Dome Industrial District the city of St. Pete is building up. One issue is the need to increase the density of jobs while limiting the footprint of developments. One way to do this could be the construction shared parking facilities for industrial buildings. Instead of each having their own surface lot, one parking garage could be built to serve multiple buildings. In the case of the Dome Industrial Park, a garage could be built along 22nd Street, with ground floor retail fronting 22nd Street of course, and a circulator to transport employees and visitors to the various businesses in the park. In central Pinellas, garages could be strategically built in various locations, also as mixed-use facilities with ground-floor retail, and circulators could transport employees and visitors to the businesses. Shared parking could also be allowed in office parks such as Carillon and Gateway Centre as a means to increase the amount of employment in these locations. Municipalities could build the garages, and businesses could pay to reserve spaces in the garages. Additional parking fees would also cover operational costs for the circulators. Ultimately, shared parking facilities would open up additional land for (re)development, and create the greater employment density that city and county leaders desire, and that would make the city and county more desirable to businesses and residents.

I am sure this has been done or suggested before, but I cannot find any record of it. At any rate, I think this would work well for both the city of St. Pete and Pinellas County.

34th Street South Redevelopment Revisited

So, before I get started, this will likely be a multi-post discussion.

Ok. With that said, let's get started. As some of you may know, the City of St. Petersburg has started an effort to create a redevelopment plan for 34th Street South. This is quite exciting, and long overdue. The stretch the city is looking at runs from 30th Avenue South to the Skyway Bridge. This stretch has great potential, but has some challenges. Here are my thoughts:


The biggest obstacle to redevelopment, I believe is traffic, or should we say the lack thereof...
34th Street South is under capacity as a 6-lane major arterial. This is mainly due to three parallel routes within 10 blocks. I-275 runs right next to it, and serves as the main north-south route through the area. Also, to the east and west are 31st Street and 37th Street - 2-lane alternatives that also run the stretch of the area. These three all siphon potential traffic away from 34th Street South, as opposed to 34th Street North where 31st and 37th Streets do not run all the way through, and I-275 runs further to the east.

Residents want more retail. While the area has good demographics in terms of disposable income, retailers look at the stretch and likely do not see the traffic numbers they want to see to strongly consider the corridor.

This brings me to the second biggest obstacle - perception. Anything with "South" in the address has a negative perception. However, the neighborhoods surrounding this stretch of 34th Street South are solidly middle class, and in some cases upper class. They are also very racially and ethnically diverse area. They are also very stable - these are destination neighborhoods that families look to move into and stay. It is actually demographically comparable to the favored 4th Street North corridor that has seen much redevelopment over the last 10 years.

So what can be done to improve the area? How can the stretch draw traffic and change perception?

Let's start with the exciting stuff:

Target large empty/underutilized tracts for specific redevelopment

There are three properties that I think are key to the redevelopment of 34th Street south: the old Econolodge site (cleared years ago and was once slated to become a Home Depot), the old Kmart property (currently serving as a flea market of sorts), and the old Maximo Mall site (currently a haphazard mix of uses from flea market to storage space). Rather than let the market totally decide, there should be a vision for what these properties can become, and city leaders should work with property owners to make this vision a reality. Here is what I think should be done with each of them:

Econolodge site 

While I would love to see it become part of a large major mixed-use development described in an earlier post, I think this would be a great site to redevelop as multi-family. Apartments are hot right now, and there has been no new product in southern St. Pete. This would be a great site for 300 units of market rate or mixed-income units, with two or three retail spaces fronting 34th Street to serve the apartment dwellers as well as the students and employees at St. Pete College and Ceridian. A Kawa Coffee and a sandwich shop would do well. New multi-family, particularly market rate, would help prove the desirability of the area. There are some local developers that would probably be interested in doing this, such as The 908 Development Group or The Wilson Group.

Kmart Site 

The old Kmart currently serves as a flea market space. While this serves a purpose, offering cheap space to small businesses, this is under-utilizing that site. This would be a great site to attract another employer to the stretch, to bring in another 200 to 300 workers to the area - a call center for one large employer would be a great economic booster, bringing much-needed jobs to the area, and providing more daytime customers to area restaurants. It could also be used as incubator space for small businesses, including another location for CoCreative. The strip at the corner of 34th Street and 38th Avenue should be leveled, and the outparcel marketed for a single-use restaurant or retail building.

Maximo Mall site

This is another old shopping center that has essentially taken anything that will fill the space and pay the rent - part flea market, storage space and other low-traffic uses. This site I see as the perfect location for a "restaurant row" development similar to Orlando's Sand Lake Road. Now of course, it would not be nearly as upscale, but this would be the space to cluster the restaurants the neighborhood wants. I can see 3 to 5 larger restaurant pads at the rear of the site, with a strip directly along 34th Street with outdoor seating. Parking would be in the center of the site. The focus should be to draw familiar faces that people generally drive to Tyrone or Pinellas Park for, like Applebee's, Chilli's, Golden Coral (which would "clean up", as the say) and something simi-upscale like Bonefish Grill for the large pads, and maybe restaurants like 5 Guys, Moe's, Little Greek, Jersey Mike's or Chipotle  fronting 34th Street.

Stay tuned...

In the continuation, I'll discuss some of the easier things that can be done, like landscaping, lighting and sidewalk improvements as well as some ideas on how to financially incentivize redevelopment in the area. I'll also go back and add some photos to this post. Just wanted to get the ideas out there.

Thanks for reading!

The Employment Zone

There has been a lot of regional cooperation going on in terms of promoting the region for economic development. Tampa Bay Partnership and others are doing a lot of studies and really pushing for a shared regional economic development plan. I think it is time to take it a step beyond studies and meetings, and developing a real framework for growing the region's economy using a concrete planning tool I like to call the Tampa Bay Employment Zone.

This zone would be the focus of economic and employment growth for the entire Tampa Bay region. It is centralized around the these thoroughfares: Ulmerton Road, I-275, I-4 and I-75. This is the area where people would go to work, and where employers would want to locate.

Tampa Bay Employment Zone Area

The Zone would be devided into sub-zones, each with a different focus as follows:

Sub-zone 1: Central Pinellas/Ulmerton Road would focus mainly on medical manufacturing and wharehousing

Sub-zone 2: Gateway/Carillon would focus mainly on finance, insurance and other corporate offices

Sub-zone 3: Westshore would also focus on finance, insurance and other corporate offices

Sub-zone 4: West Tampa would focus on entrepreneurial/small businesses with a focus on tech start-ups

Sub-zone 5: Tampa City Center would continue to be the focus for banking, legal services, government and corporate headquaters

Sub-zone 6: Ybor City would focus on entrepreneurial/small businesses like West Tampa, but with a more arts and entertainment focus

Sub-zone 7: East Tampa would focus on wharehousing and distribution with its proximity to the port and rail yards

Sub-zone 8: The I-75 Corridor would be the focus for call center development

Sub-zone 9: The I-4 East Corridor would focus on "green" technology

While these would be the focus for the sub-zones, it would not preclude other types of businesses from locating within a certain sub-zone. For instance, a call center may locate in Sub-zone 2, or a small accountinig firm from locating in Sub-zone 4. All municipalities with the zone would adopt this zone as part of their planning and economic development strategies, formally incorporate them into their comprehensive plans and zoning codes, and join forces for joint incentives (as appopriate) to cultivate existing businesses and attract new businesses to the Zone.

This Zone would make other planning initiatives, such as mass transit, even more effective. It would also help generate some much needed excitement and buzz for a region not really known for doing so. Further, it would prevent the cannibalizing that often occurs when cities within a region all compete for the same businesses, as everyone benefits through a diversified economy and increased access to these jobs through transportation improvements designed specifically for this purpose.

Opportunity to Remake a City's Image

There has been a flurry of developments for St. Pete - approvals for 3 apartment developments downtown, the possibility of top chef restaurants at the complex formerly known as BayWalk, and negotiations for a Sylvia's at the Manhattan Casino building moving forward. Of particular interest is BayWalk and Manhattan Casino happenings, which if they come to fruition, would be significant coups for "little 'ol" St. Pete.

However, the projects which would have the greatest impact on the image of the city seem to be floundering with the current leadership. These are the new Pier, and new stadium for the Rays. Leadership appears to be buckling under the pressure of some residents that want to save the current Pier, but may not be fully aware of the costs associated. And the approach to the Rays stadium has been simply to hold the team to a contract.

Both of these require stronger leadership. The Lens wasn't my pick, but it is the one chosen by the Council, and the city should move forward with the plans rather than rehash the issue through a referendum. It already took years (and lots of public input) to get to this point. And the city certainly has a great opportunity with the Rays to have a world-class facility built in the city (whether downtown or otherwise) and/or make a large tract of land available for redevelopment. A new Pier, a new Rays stadium and/or a new, shiny, mega-development in downtown St. Pete would definitely cause folks to take notice of the city, and generate quite a but of buzz, something the city and Tampa Bay as a whole could use more of. I hope our leadership steps up to the plate on these two issues.

BRT Alternative for Tampa Bay

So, it appears HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit) is moving forward with Tampa Bay's first bus rapid transit (BRT) line, which will connect north Tampa (USF, Fowler area) with Downtown Tampa called MetroRapid. It's not as exciting as light rail, but it is progress. Thinking about how residents may be reluctant to support rail, particular the extensive network I previously proposed on a previous post, I thought about an extension of MetroRapid into Westshore and across the bay into St. Petersbug. With the expansion of I-275 in west Tampa to include a large median for future transit and the rebuilding of the northbound Howard Franklin bridge to include a transit envelope, this may be a good time to move forward with such an initiative.

Eagan Transit Station, Eagan, MN
This is how it would work. The new Howard Franklin northbound would include two to four additional lanes. I propose making these tolled express lanes for carpools and accessible by buses. These lanes would continue through west Tampa in the new large median of I-275, which is purposely designed for this purpose. On the Pinellas side, it would require the construction of additional lanes on I-275 from the MLK/Ulmerton interchange to downtown St. Pete. Into south St. Pete, convert one lane of I-275 into the carpool/bus lane. The combined BRT line would connect all the major employment/activity centers in the metro area.

Major retail redevelopment near Brooklyn Center Transit Station,
Brooklyn Center, MN
With this BRT line, new "transit centers" would be created in north Tampa, Seminole Heights area and Westshore in Tampa along with Gateway, downtown St. Pete and 22nd Avenue S/I-275 area in St. Pete. Each would be park-and-ride centers, but also destinations of their own with restaurants, retail and multifamily housing. I good example would be the various transit centers in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

The political appeal would be in the creation of carpool lanes. So it still supports our preferred method of transportation, the car. However, it provides capacity for buses to move more quickly and with a higher frequency, similar to rail. Economically, it would benefit all, in that our major employment and activity centers become more accessible (e.g. a south St. Pete resident might apply for a job in Westshore if there was the option to park and ride from 22nd Avenue S across the bridge rather than drive).  I think this is a viable alternative to rail, and one worth exploring.

Downtown Retail Core

City Creek, Salt Lake City, UT
I like the way that downtown is developing organically, with shops and restaurants along Beach Drive and Central Avenue. However, I think downtown needs a true retail core - like Salt Lake City's new City Creek, Seattle's 5th Avenue/Pacific Place district or San Francisco's Union Square. Beach Drive, though a prestigious address, is not long enough to develop a significant amount of retail (unless there is significant redevelopment of the blocks north of 5th Avenue N). Central Avenue is developing into the premier urban corridor of the Tampa Bay region, but will likely not be the destination for major national (luxury) retailers like the Michigan Avenues, Madison Avenues, Newbury Streets and Lincoln Roads of the country.

Pacific Place, Seattle, WA
What we need is a "retail core". This is retail clustered together in several centers over several contiguous blocks - not necessarily on one street - creating a district and not just a corridor. The redevelopment of BayWalk, the revived interest in developing the Tropicana block, and retail in the base of the Midcore Garage - all combined would make a nice retail core for downtown St. Pete. Now if only Universal Healthcare would relocate out of the central core parking garage into a new building downtown, that would open that space back up for a true anchor, like Saks!