Wedged between St. Petersburg, Gulfport and St. Pete Beach, this densely populated town of about 5,000 has struggled to establish itself as something more than a congested conduit to South Pinellas County beaches.
City leaders want South Pasadena to be more than a "blow-through" town, but plans to transform the community that once advertised itself as the "Gateway to Holiday Isles" have become as gridlocked as Pasadena Avenue.
On Tuesday, city commission members postponed a vote on controversial changes to the city's land-use plan that would create a framework for a more "livable" city along the crowded corridor, pressured by nearly 50 residents who came out to oppose the proposal.
Opponents have criticized a component of the plan that would reduce Pasadena Avenue from six to four lanes.
Through changes to height and building density limits and modifications to Pasadena Avenue, the plan aims to encourage mixed-use development and different transportation options along the one-mile thoroughfare, improving South Pasadena's quality of life and spurring economic revitalization in the process.
"We have a lot of closed restaurants, a lot of closed businesses," said the city's interim mayor, Larry R. Crowley. "This is a way to possibly improve commerce."
The abandoned storefronts and empty parking lots along Pasadena Avenue bear witness to just how hard the recession has hit the city.
Occupancy rates in the 443,000 square feet of retail space along Pasadena Avenue dropped from 96 percent to 81.5 percent over five years, according to a study commissioned by the city.
One reason is that businesses are attracted to more pedestrian-friendly streets, said David Healey, a civic planning consultant with Calvin, Giordano & Associates, the firm the city hired to conduct the analysis.
"Business tends to depend on passers-by," he said.
Healey suggested city leaders reach out to potential businesses and those already on Pasadena Avenue and encourage them to make changes that would make the busy street more inviting to foot traffic. Businesses, for example, could move their parking lots in back so people feel safer walking.
But not everyone agrees that transforming Pasadena Avenue is a good idea.
"If anyone wants to see what (that type of development) looks like, drive down Central Avenue in St Petersburg," resident Charles Scott told the commission. "Look at all the businesses that have failed along there."
Dan Calabria, the former president and CEO of Templeton Funds Management Corp., said he doesn't think the plan makes any sense.
"I'm not a person that accepts 'take my word for it' for an answer," he said.
Among Calabria's biggest concerns is the proposed lane reduction, which he said would be dangerous.
"How do you feel about cutting a state-designated evacuation route to two lanes?" he said.
Healey said the route is already at that width when it comes in from Corey Causeway. The city is working with the state Department of Transportation to determine whether the move would create a greater hazard for people fleeing a major storm.
Reducing the size of Pasadena Avenue is intended to make the busy street safer for pedestrians and cyclists on a day-to-day basis.
"We've got seniors — they don't cross the street quickly," said state Rep. Kathleen Peters, a former mayor of South Pasadena. "We have fatalities regularly with pedestrians."
Last month, an 83-year-old woman was struck and killed trying to cross Pasadena Avenue.
Calabria and other critics also were concerned about the lack of public meetings ahead of the vote.
"We aren't getting enough answers from you," resident Gloria Parisi said. "That is the problem here."
As specific projects come up for approval, residents will have a chance to learn how individual properties along Pasadena Avenue will be redeveloped, City Attorney David Smith said.
"I think there's a little confusion over what we're considering," he said Tuesday. "This is very preliminary, and that's why it seems so vague and inexact. It is vague and inexact."
After more than an hour and a half of discussion, the commission voted unanimously to shelve the vote on its Pasadena Avenue plan until Feb. 12 and to schedule a town hall meeting ahead of time.