Thursday, Dec 18, 2014

Small army shines up St. Pete’s Central Avenue


Published:   |   Updated: February 9, 2014 at 12:33 AM

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ST. PETERSBURG — A dozen volunteers made quick work of a street cleanup Saturday in the bustling Edge business district on Central Avenue.

That’s partly because this stretch of the city’s main commercial corridor between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 16th Street almost entirely has filled with shops, and no one wants to be the bad neighbor.

“You don’t want to be the only house on the street with your lawn this high,” said LeAnn Barlas, who heads up the Edge District association.

The Edge joined a handful of people from other shopping districts on a damp, dreary morning, sprucing up their sections of this nine-mile stretch between downtown St. Petersburg and Boca Ciega Bay.

It’s a tiny step on a long road to unite the many disparate segments of Central Avenue into one identifiable whole, tied together with tree-lined medians and branded signs to let passers-by know where they are.

A group appointed by the city to guide the long-range Central Avenue Redevelopment Plan hopes to see a few more visible moves forward this year, including the transformation of trolley stops into art pieces with the help of local designers.

The Central Avenue Council meets Tuesday at the St. Petersburg Greenhouse adjacent to City Hall on Second Avenue South and hopes to bring more people onboard, especially in the road’s midsection, punctuated by more strip centers and office buildings than boutiques.

In the past year, progress along the thoroughfare has been dramatic in some areas but slow or nonexistent in others.

The well-established Grand Central District from 16th Street to 31st Street has gathered an impressive collection of accolades, including recognition as a national historic Main Street.

The Edge seemed to announce a new bar or restaurant opening every other week in 2013, including the much-anticipated Green Bench Brewing Co., which has transformed a rear service street into a hip hangout.

With the backing of $50,000 in city funding, the district is well on its way to becoming a Florida Main Street, joining other historic streets that successfully have been restored as urban shopping destinations.

Businesses and residents at the western end of Central are focusing on more basic needs. For example: clearly defined crosswalks and pedestrian medians to make walking across four lanes of traffic less harrowing.

The West Central Village group will get $50,000 in city money to draft plans for streetscaping, traffic “calming” and replacement of stark streetlights with more attractive lanterns, making it more appealing to stroll to the shops running out to Park Street.

The money is meant to help the district plan for $2 million in Penny for Pinellas funds promised several years ago by Pinellas County, which owns this part of the road, St. Petersburg City Council member Charlie Gerdes said.

Without the historic buildings and narrower streets found closer to downtown, the neighborhood will have to create a different business community than what’s growing at the eastern end of Central.

There’s a baby clothing boutique, cafe and antique store, as well as service businesses such as veterinarians and hair salons — but no craft beer bars.

Being different is a good thing, longtime resident Monica Abbott says.

“You can come down here to get some peace and quiet,” she said.

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277

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