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Saturday, Sep 20, 2014

Stretch of Central Avenue closer to being Main Street district


— The half-mile stretch of bars, cafes, apartments and vintage furniture stores on downtown’s western edge is expected to become the city’s third official Main Street district in a few weeks.

Once known primarily for its proximity to Tropicana Field, the section of Central Avenue dubbed the Edge District is developing a strong identity that’s mostly independent of baseball.

Between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 16th streets, business such as Green Bench Brewing Company and growing Latin eatery Bodega draw plenty of traffic to the sidewalk regardless of whether the Rays are in town.

The Florida Main Street Committee in Tallahassee this week recommended the pedestrian-friendly shopping district to join the state’s list of official Main Streets.

The Department of State is expected to make the designation official in two weeks, recognizing the efforts of merchants and residents to spruce up their neighborhood and to revive its historic place along St. Petersburg’s central business corridor.

The Edge Business District Association has been working for more than a year to meet the state’s strict standards, which include raising local financial support, building a strong organization and demonstrating that successful revitalization is under way.

The association has won City Council support to fully fund its organization, as well as $350,000 from the county for street improvements to help identify the district for visitors.

“We’ll be working toward getting some entrance signs and some art in the district over the next year,” association director Lea Ann Barlas said.

The Edge was recommended for the Main Street program along with business districts in Cocoa Beach and LaBelle.

St. Petersburg already has two Florida Main Streets, The Deuces Live on 22nd Street South, and Grand Central District, just west of the Edge on Central Avenue.

The department of state’s division of historic resources offers guidance to new entrants into the program to help them preserve local landmarks and spur economic revitalization.

The revitalization piece appears to be happening in this part of the city with little outside intervention.

Bolstered by residents at 1010 Central and the Fusion 1560 apartments, art, restaurants and retail are booming in the Edge.

All this buzz got the attention of New York City firm Openhouse, which recently spent $1.65 million on a 2-acre parcel across from the Everything Dolce café with plans for a business incubator that will give chefs and caterers space to setup “pop-up” restaurants that can serve creative dishes for short stints of time.

Downtown’s Red Mesa Cantina is also in the process of opening a Latin food market in one of the few empty buildings remaining in the district.

“There are a couple of spaces left, but we’re getting pretty maxed out and the good news is the businesses are staying,” Barlas said.


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