Urban Advisor

All about rebuilding communities and restoring hope.

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Saint Petersburg, Florida, United States

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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