ST. PETERSBURG — The new name is meant to evoke images of this area’s best assets: shopping, waterfront living and its position as the gateway to the iconic Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
At St. Petersburg College’s Allstate Center on 34th Street South Tuesday night, a large crowd cheered when the logo for their new district appeared on a projection screen: images of a palm tree, a heron and the sun setting behind the Skyway Bridge.
“Welcome to the newest district in St. Petersburg, the Skyway Marina District,” said Gary Jones, who is spearheading a plan to redevelop the district for the city’s economic development office.
The branding for this commercial corridor at 34th Street South’s southern terminus comes after a summer of meetings between city leaders and residents. Their goal was to create a plan to revitalize their neighborhood in the same fashion as districts closer to downtown.
The area between 30th Avenue South and 54th Avenue South is populated with big retailers like Wal-Mart and Publix, a smattering of small chain restaurants and a marina as well as several fading motels and shopping centers that the city wants to see redeveloped.
Jones showed an image of a possible future where the dilapidated Skyway Mall at the intersection of 43rd Avenue is transformed into a large mixed-use development with retail, restaurants, offices and apartments on either side of a long, green outdoor space.
This was one piece of the plan that a group of more than 40 residents and business owners discussed at a series of meetings.
The group offered a range of recommendations, including widening sidewalks along the hectic six-lane road, extending trolley service to the district, expanding existing bike trails and creating unified signage to give the area a sense of identity.
The St. Petersburg City Council must vote on adopting the plan and likely will eventually allocate funding to help jump-start the redevelopment plan.
Council chair Karl Nurse and council members Wengay Newton and Steve Kornell told residents Tuesday they were encouraged by enthusiasm for the plan.
Nurse said it took more than a decade to transform the Grand Central District on Central Avenue from a business area characterized by drugs and prostitution to a collection of boutiques and restaurants.
“I do want to caution people: It is a journey. We’re not going to make this magic happen overnight,” Nurse said.
Another key piece for 34th Street’s future will be attracting investors and developers to build the kinds of mixed-use development the city wants to see.
Jones suggested offering incentives to the first major development and the first major restaurant to open in the district.
In the meantime, residents need to look at hosting events in the district and promoting existing businesses, Jones said.
Efforts are underway to create a business association, and Marty Paterno, who owns the Marina Village UPS store at 4905 34th Street South, says getting merchants to back the plan is crucial.
“It’s getting the businesses behind it. The city’s only going to do so much. It’s getting the community behind it,” said Paterno, who serves on the steering committee for the Skyway Marina District plan.