Ashon Nesbitt 11:23 PM 34th Street South , apartments , economic development , employment , redevelopment , restaurants , retail , south St. Petersburg , St. PetersburgSo, 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:
ChallengesThe 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 redevelopmentThere 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 siteWhile 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 SiteThe 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 siteThis 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.
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!