Urban Advisor

All about rebuilding communities and restoring hope.

About Ashon

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Saint Petersburg, Florida, United States

The Employment Zone

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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.

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Opportunity to Remake a City's Image

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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.

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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.


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Downtown Retail Core

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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!

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South St. Pete Redevelopment Part II: 22nd Avenue and I-275

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So, in South St. Pete Redevelopment Part I, we outlined a plan for the development of a major mixed-use center, primarily retail, for south St. Pete. The development of this retail center involved several key things, mainly the realignment of SPC facilities and the ability of the city and/or private developer to obtain control of several properties along the 34th Street South corridor. However, if/when all the pieces came together, a major center would be developed that would change 34th Street South and south St. Pete forever, for the better!

Now, the other major proposal for south St. Pete is the redevelopment of the 22nd Avenue S and I-275 interchange area. This proposal involves a major re-construction of the interchange to allow for major redevelopment around it. The goal is to create a walkable, mixed-use district (retail, housing and office) around a proposed transit station that spans both sides of I-275. The area currently includes a mix of strip shopping centers, and industrial center and single-family homes on dead-end streets. The redeveloped area creates greater connectivity within the area, and redevelops all properties into an urban mixed-use center.

The first step involves the reconstruction of the interchange at 22nd Avenue S and I-275. This concept involves combining the 22nd Avenue S and 26th Avenue S interchanges into one, with one-way frontage roads on each side of the interstate. The second step is building a bridge for a 24th Avenue S underpass under I-275. This creates additional connectivity, with 24th Avenue becoming the center and pain pedestrian pathway east and west.

The majority of the commercial space would be focused on 34th Street. On the east side of the street would be mixed-use buildings (dark red), 3 to 5-stories in height with retail at the base and office and/or residential on the floors above. On the west side of the street would be purely retail space (light red). All parking (light gray) would be in the rear of the buildings. The fronts would have generous sidewalks and landscaping to encourage walking.

East of I-275, the concept calls for an office-building (blue) of 5- to 7-stories. This could be used by one large company or several smaller companies, bringing much needed jobs to the area. This would be served by structured parking (dark gray) to the north, that would also be public parking for transit riders. To the south would be a mixed-income apartment building (purple) surrounding structured parking (dark gray). Further south, at 31st Street and 26th Avenue S, would be brand-name hotel (orange) to serve the area.

This mixed-use center, combined with the new major center to the south would completely transform 34th Street S and lead to further redevelopment throughout south St. Pete.

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No Parking

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The last post focused on creating an urban overlay district for the inner neighborhoods of St. Petersburg. The goal is to create zoning to encourage the development a true urban environment in these neighborhoods. One of the biggest issues will be parking. With all of these new housing units and businesses, where will people park? The ideal is that parking will not be needed, as residents will be able to walk most places. Also, less parking means more room for actual building space.

So how would this work? Within the overlay district will be different parking requirements. Developers would have the opportunity to completely eliminate parking or greatly reduce the parking they are required to provide by paying a mobility fee. This fee would be based on the cost of providing parking, road improvements and alternate forms of transportation. The fee would be less than the cost of parking to incentivize participation. For instance, to reduce parking by 100%, the fee would be 50% of the cost of building the parking. To reduce parking by 50%, the fee would be 75%of the cost of building the parking.

Where would the money go? The money collected would go into a local transportation trust fund. The money in this trust fund would be used for transportation initiatives within the district. One possibility is using the funds as leverage to build a streetcar system that residents could use to move throughout the overly district, and eventually throughout the entire city. The funds could also be used for such things as sidewalk installation and repair, bike lanes and road repaving. Developers would get a greater return on their investment by the ability to build more on their properties. The properties would have greater value from their greater use, increasing tax revenue to the city. The city would also get a new revenue stream for transportation improvements. And the city overall becomes more attractive as an urban environment. Sounds like a winner to me!

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Urban Overlay

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So, I always picture St. Petersburg as something of an "urban oasis", a dense urban city, but still maintaining its laid-back feel. I like a walkable city. However, most of St. Pete is not what I consider walkable. Retail is still mostly on a few corridors, major grocery stores are mostly on a few select streets along with the restaurants and such. However, to create the demand needed for more neighborhood-serving retail, there needs to be density. So I thought about the possibility of an urban overlay district for the core of the city. Up-zone an entire swath of the city for single-family attached and small apartment buildings by right along residential roads. The increase in residents will support the mixed-use buildings (retail on ground floor with office and/or residential above) along main corridors, pushing the retail to the street and parking to the rear. So here is where I would do my urban overlay:

Most of these areas are already considered "urban" neighborhoods and have many of these characteristic uses as a legacy of decades past. The zoning just needs to be put in place to support further densification. And I am going to stop there...keeping this post short and sweet.

Here are some examples of what residential streets could look like:


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South St. Pete Redevelopment Part I: New 34th Street South Mixed-Use Center

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Sometimes redevelopment requires the buy-in, cooperation and coordination of several entities. This may be particularly true in areas that have suffered from disinvestment, and municipalities have taken an "anything is better than nothing" approach, allowing entities to come in with projects, oftentimes with very little coordination or thought for the future. Such is the case with southern St. Petersburg. The area has several areas that are ripe for redevelopment. However, there has been no real, compelling vision for the future to guide development. As such, we have ended up with poorly planned areas.

Our former mayor, Rick Baker, had a vision of a seamless city, where all parts of the city had the same types of amenities (shopping, restaurants, post offices, banks, parks). However, his vision, although good on its merits, in execution seemed to be about bringing suburban-style development to parts of the city that, although neglected or overlooked, should be developed in a more urban way.

With that said, I have a vision for two major redevelopment projects for south St. Pete that I will discuss over the next two blog posts. This first development is aimed at addressing the lack of quality retail and restaurants on the south side. This type of development has eluded or avoided the south side, mainly out of perception of a poor, crime-ridden area, when really this only applies to certain parts, and not the whole. At any rate, the south side needs a major shopping and dining destination.

So my proposal is to redevelop the land currently used by St. Petersburg College, a recently closed assisted living facility and the recently demolished old EconoLodge Hotel (once planned to be a home depot). These lots represent the last large lots along 34th Street, the main commercial thoroughfare through the south side of town. However, the vision is not to build more typical strip centers. The vision is for a multi-story retail center, with supporting residential developments. Below is a plan for the combined properties.

The New 34th Street South Mixed-Use Center
The red portion below is the current home to St. Petersburg College Allstate Campus. This will be the multi-story indoor retail center, similar to the Bronx Terminal Market. It will have big box retailers, such as Target, Best Buy and Marshalls, junior anchors like DSW Shoe Warehouse and Bed Bath & Beyond, smaller mall stores, such as Lane Bryant, Jimmy Jazz and Gamestop, a few fast-food restaurants, and a family entertainment center like Dave & Busters.

Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market

The dark red is what I call "restaurant row". This would be the location of several sit-down restaurants, something sorely lacking on the south side. I envision Applebees, TGI Fridays, Chillis, Chipotle, Noodles & Co (a newcomer), Red Lobster and a Golden Coral (which would be hugely popular).

The purple is a family apartment complex in the 5 to 7 story range. Similar to the Vintage Lofts at West Tampa or the Fusion 1560 apartments in downtown St. Pete

Vintage Lofts at West Tampa

The orange is a senior housing building, in the 10 to 15 story range. The grey sections are structured parking that would serve both the retail and the residential buildings.

The retail would serve a s a regional shopping destination for southern St. Petersburg, as well as the beach communities, where there is no major shopping. It may also draw from other parts of the city that can more easily reach this center as opposed to centers to the north and west. The residential would meet a need for affordable senior housing. The family housing I envisions as mixed-income to appeal to young families and even young professionals. Eventually, I see this as a destination stop along an expanded light rail system.

To accomplish this would require lots of pieces to come together. First, my vision for a redeveloped Tropicana Field would need to happen. St. Petersburg College could then move its Health Science center to downtown, move its criminal justice center from the Allstate Center to the current location of the Health Science Center in Pinellas Park, and sell the Allstate Center to the developer of this new development (or the City of St. Petersburg to deed over to the developer). The owners of the other properties would also need to sell their properties to the developer or to the City to deed to a developer.

In conclusion, this new mixed-use center would breath new life and ultimately change the image of south St. Pete, making it an attractive place to settle in, raise a family, and even retire. The next post, we'll talk about a vision for further north along 34th Street, at the 22nd Ave S intersection. This is another major development involving a lot of moving parts. However, the two of these together will transform the south side, and open its potential for redevelopment.

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Transit for All: An Expansion on the Pinellas LPA

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So, Pinellas County is moving forward with its LPA (previously discussed here), recommending light rail transit connecting the downtowns of Clearwater and St. Petersburg through the Gateway area. The LPA also includes a regional connection to Tampa, reaching Westshore (and indirectly Tampa International Airport) and downtown Tampa. The LPA provides a direct connection to St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, and connects the major centers of Pinellas, as seen on the map below:

This is a strong start to what will eventually become a regional rail system. For those of you unfamiliar with Tampa Bay geography, Clearwater and St. Petersburg are the other two "central cities" for the Tampa Bay region besides Tampa. Downtown Clearwater is important as it is the seat of county government for Pinellas and is the closest major urban center to the gulf beaches. Downtown St. Petersburg is a large employment center, with major major hospitals, USF-SP and a significant amount of office space, as well as cultural center, with the Dali, MFA, Mahaffey, the Pier (soon to be redeveloped - see my blog post) and a host of other museums, galleries and performance venues. It is also a hub for dining and nightlife for the entire region. Gateway, along with Westshore and downtown Tampa, is a major employment center, and business parks along the planned light rail line such as Carillon, La Entrada and Gateway Centre still have lots of room to grow.

This plan has a great chance to succeed at the polls, where voters will be asked to support the plan by approving a 1-cent sales tax (in exchange for a reduction in property taxes). The changes are better than Hillsborough County's initiative, which did not pass its first vote, as the route has been established, technology chosen, and accurate cost estimates will be known well ahead of a vote in 2013 or 2014. There is also plenty of time for public education and involvement in the final plans. However, where this situation is similar to Hillsborough is that the initial line does not service the entire county, and there are no specific proposals for expansion. In order to insure passage of this COUNTY-WIDE initiative, planners and officials should have some specific plans for future phases of rail transit that will reach other parts of the county, particularly northern Pinellas County. Below is my proposal:

The RED line is the current LPA. The BLUE line serves northern Pinellas along US 19 (the major north-south route) up to Tarpon Springs. The YELLOW line serve western St. Petersburg and connects to downtown Clearwater via Seminole. The LIGHT BLUE line connects southern St. Petersburg to the system. All of these expansions are important to the initial vote and important to the success of rail and redevelopment in the future.

Phase 2 should definitely be the BLUE line to Tarpon Springs. This line would mainly consist of park-and-ride stations for the largely suburban northern Pinellas, where many residents commute to jobs in Gateway, St. Petersburg and Tampa. It would also provide access to major shopping destinations such as Westfiield Countryside and Clearwater Mall, and promote transit oriented developments (TODs) these locations and others. Additionally, it also provides direct access to two SPC locations - Clearwater and Tarpon Springs - to promote education which is very important to the expansion and diversification of the local economy.

Phase 3 should include the simultaneous development of the YELLOW and LIGHT BLUE lines. The YELLOW line provides access to downtown St. Petersburg for residents to the western part of the city on through Seminole, and connects them to Largo and downtown Clearwater. It also provides rail access to Gateway, where many commute, and eventually into Tampa. It can get visitors from downtown St. Petersburg closer to the beaches. It further provides a direct connection to Bay Pines VA (a major employer), as well as promoting major TOD at Central Plaza and Tyrone in St. Petersburg, Bay Pines and Seminole Mall in Seminole, and Largo Mall in Largo.

The LIGHT BLUE line is special to me for its great impact both on the built environment as well as its social impact. The LIGHT BLUE line could be the a great tool for bringing economic prosperity to many communities in south St. Pete by providing residents access to job-rich Gateway and eventually to Tampa. Many resident, limited by lack of (reliable) transportation, may now feel free to pursue the better jobs offered in the aforementioned districts. It would also open south St. Pete to redevelopment. I envision the possibility for major TOD in such locations as 22nd Avenue S/34th Street S and 38th Avenue S/34th Street S (I will discuss these in more detail in a later post).

The PURPLE lines also show future Phases 4 and 5, providing a direct link to downtown Clearwater through downtown Dunedin, which is becoming a destination on its own. There is also a connection to Oldsmar, which is growing as a jobs center for the region.

All of this will create a strong rail network on which to build the Pinellas County and Tampa Bay of the future. Just presenting these on a map as proposed expansions that will be explored in the same fashion as this initial line would significantly increase the chances of approval in 2013 or 2014.

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Walkable City: One Strip Center at a Time

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So I asked my wife the other night, "Would you walk to the grocery store if it was within walking distance, a couple of blocks away?" Her answer: "No! This is your wife you are talking to." Well, I know my wife, and I know her shopping patterns (she generally gets more than she intends to get), and I know walking is just not her thing (unless it is for exercise). However, thinking a little bit further, she is not conditioned to walk to the grocery store, or to the bank, or to the restaurant around the corner. In fact, most of us that grew up in Sunbelt cities and towns just did not have that kind of mindset. Unless your household could not afford a car, you drove everywhere. We didn't even walk to school.

Well, most of our cities have reached a point where the usual suburban retail pattern (strip malls along a major arterial road with seas and ponds of surface parking) has become unsustainable or just unpractical. The land is expensive to assemble, gas prices are high. There is even the thought that online shopping has become more convenient and allows people to avoid the headache of driving, finding a parking space and dealing with crowds. People want experiences. From an urban planning perspective, our cities need to redevelop and build on their tax base. Just as single-family-detached housing has become cost prohibitive or inefficient (see post on the two-family house), so are our strip centers. As we try to transform our cities into more urban environments, encouraging the use of public transit instead of cars and build the tax base through increased density, we can start at the neighborhood level with our local shopping centers.

Most of the local shopping centers are the center of activity for neighborhoods, and would be great places to start with in terms of creating walkable cities. The challenge comes with (re)integrating these centers into their surrounding neighborhoods, providing clear paths of pedestrian access while still accommodating cars, as well as allowing them to add density and mix uses (particularly add residential) to create a more sustainable center (residential will provide some built-in demand for the retail).

So looking around St. Petersburg, I have identified two shopping centers that would be good candidates from redevelopment from strip centers to what I like to call neighborhood centers that surrounding streets can build on: Northeast Shopping Center (4th Street and 38th Avenue N) and Coquina Key Plaza (6th Street and 45th Avenue S)

I imagine these two centers as sort of bookends or major destinations along my planned streetcar system for St. Pete (the subject of another post another day). These are two typical suburban-style, auto centric shopping centers, but with some redesign, they can become walkable centers re-integrated into their surrounding neighborhoods.

Let's look first at the Northeast Shopping Center. This is a prime location near some of the city's most affluent neighborhoods. Currently the center is anchored by Publix and Steinmart. However I think that center could support a few higher-end stores. When I think of this part of town, for some reason I think of Manhasset, NY, an upper-income area of northern Long Island just outside of Queens. Well, this area isn't quite that rich, but there is a fair amount of affluence nearby. It might not support the likes of Tiffany & Co., but an Ann Taylor or Coldwater Creek might do quite well in this center. So here is the center in plan view:

And here is a proposed redevelopment in plan view:
This redevelopment involves expansion or reconfiguration of existing buildings as well as some new buildings. The red are existing buildings that have been expanded or slightly reconfigured to allow the residential street from the east to flow all the way through the property. The orange buildings have ground floor retail with office and/or residential above (up to 4 stories). The dark grey is structured parking. The light brown is structured parking with ground floor retail. Overall the redevelopment brings in the opportunity for more retail as well as office and housing, creating a real urban neighborhood center. Also, there are already several streets running through the complex that can easily be extended to integrate the center into the surrounding neighborhoods, making it accessible by foot as well as by car, particularly from the east.

Now on to Coquina Key. This one has the potential to change the view of an entire community. Although on the south side of town, this is near some well-established middle class communities. This center may require a complete rebuild, but a new village center of sorts would work quite well in this neighborhood and draw new interest in an area with great potential. Here is the current center in plan view:

And here is a proposed redevelopment in plan view:

The redevelopment is a total rebuild, moving the retail (red) out toward the exterior of the property along the streets to encourage pedestrian access. It also includes the introduction of multifamily housing (purple) - no more than 4 stories surrounding structured parking (brown). I imagine this housing as a mix of affordable and market rate to appeal to the range of incomes represented in that area. The residential also provides some built-in demand for the retail. Parking for the retail is a mixture of structured parking (brown) in the northwestern quadrant and surface parking (gray) in the southwestern quadrant.

In both cases, we have an integration into the surrounding neighborhood , which is the major goal. These two centers could be models followed by other centers around the city, such as Central Plaza, Tyrone Gardens, Lakeview Shopping Center, Gateway Mall and even Tyrone Square. This will begin to create a much more walkable city and bring additional (re)development to the city. As with our discussion of Tropicana Field, I will definitely revisit these ideas with some 3D models. But until then, we can use places like Winter Park Village in Winter Park, FL or Edgewood in Atlanta as examples of redeveloped strip centers and what these shopping centers in St. Pete could be.

Edgewood in Atlanta, GA

Winter Park Village in Winter Park, FL

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