Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.

Downtown Revitalization: St. Petersburg

With over 35 miles of bike trails and 75 miles of on-street bike lanes, it's recognized as one of the top 10 cities in the country for cycling. Today, Metro Jacksonville takes a look at the downtown of Florida's most bike friendly city: St. Petersburg

Published December 27, 2012 in Learning From      19 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


Tale of the Tape:

St. Petersburg City Population 2011: 244,997 (City); 2,824,724 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1892)

Jacksonville Pop. 2011: 827,908 (City); 1,360,251 (Metro-2011) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); St. Petersburg (96,738)

City Land Area

St. Petersburg: 61.7 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2010-2011)

Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater: +1.49%
Jacksonville: +1.09%

Urban Area Population (2010 census)

Tampa-St. Petersburg: 2,441,770 (ranked 17 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 1,065,219 (ranked 40 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2010 census)

Tampa-St. Petersburg: 2,551.5 people per square mile
Jacksonville: 2,008.5 people per square mile

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2011

Tampa-St. Petersburg: -3,235
Jacksonville: +92,405

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

St. Petersburg: St. Petersburg is the largest city in Florida without a convention center.
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1985) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to or across the street from Convention Center:

St. Petersburg: N/A
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

St. Petersburg: Bank of America Tower - 386 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2012 (City limits only):

St. Petersburg: Jabil Circuit (157)
Jacksonville: CSX (226), Winn-Dixie Stores (363), Fidelity National Information Services (425), Fidelity National Financial (472)

Urban infill obstacles:

St. Petersburg: Rising conflicts between growing downtown nightlife and residents.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

St. Petersburg: Beach Drive, Central Avenue, and Jannus Landing.
Jacksonville: East Bay Street

Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

St. Petersburg: 85 out of 100, according to
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to

About St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg is the fourth most populous city in Florida and the largest in Tampa Bay's Pinellas County.

The city was founded in 1876 by John C. Williams, from Detroit, and Peter Demens, who spent a portion of his younger years in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Local legend claims the gentlemen flipped a coin to see who would have the honor of naming the city.  The loser's reward was the first hotel being named after their hometown.  Needless to say, Demens won the flip and the Detroit Hotel, which still exists, became the first hotel.

With the advent of air conditioning, the city's population boomed after World War II (60,812 residents in 1940) and by the end of 1970s (238,647 residents), it was completely built out.

For decades, it was a popular retirement destination and known by many as "God's waiting room".  However, fueled by a vibrant arts scene in recent years, the city's demographics have shifted in a more youthful direction.

Downtown St. Petersburg Sights & Scenes

Founded in 1888 and originally named City Park, Williams Park is the city's first park.  At one time, the park was surrounded by prestigious department stores and a popular site for political and civic rallies. Since 1994, Williams Park has served as a major bus terminal for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA).  Williams Park has also had its bouts with homeless camps in the past.

The days of seeing downtown parks and sidewalks hosting makeshift homeless camps are nearly over, Mayor Bill Foster said Thursday.

In the next two weeks, the city will begin enforcing ordinances that ban sleeping or reclining on public sidewalks and the storage of personal belongings on public property.

Williams Park, City Hall, the Princess Martha senior apartments, all known for attracting the homeless, will be transformed, Foster told council members.

"You will see success," Foster said. "All eight of you have made this happen. When your constituents ask you about this in the coming weeks, take credit for it because you guys made it happen."

Violators will be given the option of going to Pinellas Safe Harbor — a shelter the county opened with the city's help in January — or jail. Located off 49th Street near the Pinellas County Jail, Safe Harbor has already become the county's largest shelter, averaging 320 to 350 people a day.

The Roaring Twenties brought an invasion of land speculators and tourists who arrived by boat, auto, and railroad, as well as permanent settlers. St. Petersburg was caught up in the speculation of the Florida Land Boom that began in 1920 and peaked in 1925, when city building permits for the year totaled $24 million in construction and local banks held $46 million in deposits. By 1924 an estimated 26,000 people lived in St. Petersburg, a figure that would grow to 40,425 by 1930. Hotel rooms increased from 675 in 1905 to 7000 in 1925 after the construction of ten major new hotels in St. Petersburg and its environs. One of those hotels was the Pennsylvania Hotel, which has now been restored as a Courtyard by Marriott.

With 34,557 employees, Downtown St. Petersburg is home to seven skyscrapers over 300 feet.  The Bank of America Tower, the tallest at 386 feet, was completed in 1990.

Scheduled to open in February 2014 at the site of BayWalk, The Shops at St. Pete is envisioned as a destination for high end retail shopping, al fresco dining, and atmospheric social gatherings.

The Shops at St. Pete, formerly BayWalk, is a shopping, dining and entertainment establishment located in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The complex, which opened in the fall of 2000, includes 73,000 square feet of retail space plus an 80,000-square-foot movie theater owned by Muvico Theaters. The two-story, open-air shopping center is a mix of Florida contemporary and traditional Mediterranean architectural styles with stucco-faced buildings and wrought iron touches. Upon its opening, BayWalk offered well-known franchise and locally owned shops, restaurants, and nightclubs as well as a number of service-oriented businesses, that provided an eclectic visiting experience. However, numerous economic and political problems, coupled with high-profile incidents of crime committed by local teens at the location, have resulted in vacancy rates that now top 90%.
Bill Edwards bought BayWalk for $5.2 million in September 2011, and announced plans to revitalize the complex. "One store and the Muvico box office are being torn down, but the rest of BayWalk will remain. It will be resurfaced and have a cleaner look."
Edwards announced the new name, The Shops at St Pete, on August 12, 2012.,_Florida)

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP), commonly known as USF St. Pete, is a separately accredited, autonomous institution in the University of South Florida System, located in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida by the Tampa Bay waterfront. The campus is bounded by the Salt Creek Marine District, Bayfront Medical Center and All Children's Hospital and the Roser Park and Bartlett Park residential neighborhoods. Opened in 1965 as a satellite campus of the University of South Florida, USFSP gained accreditation as a separate entity in 2006. USF St. Petersburg is the only public university in Pinellas County and the only public university offering bachelors and graduate degree programs in the area. USF St. Petersburg enrolled nearly 5,000 students during the fall 2012 semester. Students across the USF System enroll at USF St. Petersburg, creating a typical semester student population of more than 6,000. The other separately accredited, autonomous institutions in the system are the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida, and Sarasota.

Living Downtown

Like many cities throughout the country, downtown St. Petersburg underwent a major residential boom during the early 2000s.  Today, over 14,577 reside within a one mile radius of downtown.  81,957 reside within a three mile radius.

The 36-story, 243-unit residential Signature Place, the second tallest at 381 feet, was completed in 2009.

Beach Drive

Life along Beach Drive begins early. Lines full of tourists wait for the Chihuly Collection to open, residents walk their dogs and restaurant workers begin raising umbrellas and clearing tables.

The restaurant tables that dot the street are full by noon, before Beach Drive slows down to catch its breath before happy hour and dinner. Then, it comes alive again.

Business owners have flocked to Beach Drive in the past few years essentially on the promise of what it would become. Today, with its art museums, fine dining, parks and condos, Beach Drive has grown into St. Petersburg's place to be and be seen.

Why did they open there? Well, business owners say, why not?

"It's like if you go to New York City and you say, 'Why did you pick Fifth Avenue?'  " said Philippe Berriot, who owns Cassis American Brasserie. "Because it's the best place to be."

The transformation on Beach Drive is a few years in the making. When Steve Westphal opened the Parkshore Grill in 2006, it was one of the first new restaurants on the Drive.

full article about Beach Drive:

The Waterfront

St. Petersburg boasts the third-largest dedicated public waterfront park system in North America, with a waterfront park system that stretches 7 miles and is used year round for public events, festivals and other activities. In the early 1900s, citizens and city leaders engaged in a long and boisterous debate over the future of the young city's waterfront space, with one side advocating for commercial, port and industrial development and the other side advocating for a long-term commitment to parks and public access to the waterfront. The public access and park contingent won the debate when, on Christmas Eve 1909, the city announced the acquisition of the waterfront land that is encompassed by the waterfront park system.,_Florida

The Vinoy was built in 1925 by Aymer Vinoy Laughner. The hotel was a popular destination for celebrities ranging from Babe Ruth, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge and James Stewart.In 1974 the Vinoy closed its doors and sold most of its contents. The hotel became a haven for vagrants until the early 1990s when it was bought by a partnership between Renaissance Hotels and Resorts and the Vinoy Development Corporation. A $93-million renovation was undertaken, and in two years the Vinoy reopened as an almost perfect replica of its former self.
In 2005, the Vinoy earned AAA Four-Diamond status.

The Pier is a local landmark and major tourist destination in downtown.  Its origin dates as far back as 1889, when the Orange Belt Railway constructed a railroad pier.  In 1973, the current pier was constructed as an inverted pyramid with an observation deck on the top floor.  The pier is scheduled to close May 31, 2013.  Plans call for it to be demolished and replaced with a new pier and attraction.

The Salvador Dali Museum houses the largest collection outside Europe of the works of the artist Salvador Dalí.

Central Avenue

Most of the dining downtown can be found on or near Central Avenue or on Beach Drive near the waterfront. Central Avenue and adjacent streets also contain most of the active nightlife scene which includes bars, lounges and clubs to suit most tastes as well as two busy concert venues: Jannus Live and the State Theatre. The nightlife scene is credited to recent demographic and regulatory changes. In 2010, the city council voted to extend bar hours until 3 A.M., identical to cross-bay "rival" Tampa.,_Florida

Downtown St. Petersburg's streets are home to some of the best preserved Mediterranean-Revival style architectural structures in Florida, such as the Snell Arcade, which was constructed in 1926.

Grand Central

Grand Central is an arts-entertainment district located on Central Avenue two miles west of Downtown. It is located within the boundaries of Kenwood Historic District, a neighborhood of St. Pete. This locale was voted among the 10 best "cottage communities" in America by Cottage Living. Many new businesses have opened in the area, with a large influx from the creative class. The area is also known as a bastion for St. Pete's LGBT community, including gay-friendly nightlife. The annual St. Pete Pride event is held here, which is the largest single-day event for the whole city as well as the largest gay pride parade in all of Florida. The event attracts tens of thousands of people to the area. Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, the first openly gay elected official in the region, was named Grand Marshal for the 2009 parade. Besides Pride, the neighborhood also hosts a weekly "Peddler's Market", similar to a more elaborate Farmers' market. Some controversy is brewing in the neighborhood regarding the marginalization of existing social services centers, and over a flag-hanging ordinance.,_St._Petersburg,_Florida

A Cycling Paradise

The Sunshine State isn’t generally known to be bike-friendly, but efforts are being made in certain cities to make two-wheeled transportation easier, safer, more frequent, and more fun. St. Petersburg’s hard work is particularly notable, and as St. Pete’s Director of Transportation Joe Kubicki states, “Our relatively flat terrain, temperate climate, and great cycling infrastructure with plenty of trails and road facilities make it an excellent choice for visitors.” Indeed, St. Pete is striving to make the city better for biking all the time. Since 2006, it has been designated a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly City by the League of American Bicyclists, and have been working to raise their status, from providing more bike parking to connecting the recreational trails and street lanes. You can already enjoy the beautiful waterfront parks and beaches as well as the popular downtown shopping areas by bike, and with the coming myBike bike-share program (designed and funded by St. Pete residents, and based on NYC’s coming Social Bicycles technology), biking will be even easier for area visitors.

Top 10 Cities for Cycling

 1. Austin

 2. Boston

 3. Chicago

 4. Denver

 5. Minneapolis - St. Paul

 6. New York City

 7. Portland, OR

 8. San Francisco

 9. St. Petersburg

10. Washington, D.c.

The Pinellas Trail stretches 47 miles from downtown St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. It spans an abandoned railroad corridor through parks and along coastal areas, oak glades, waterways, and tidal streams ( The downtown St. Pete portion of the Pinellas passes Rail Switch Park, the Morean Arts Center for Clay (in the Historic Seaboard Train Station), and Tropicana Field, home to the Tampa Bay Rays

Tropicana Field, home of Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays, is located in the western part of downtown.

The Seaboard Coast Line Railroad freight station was originally constructed in 1926 by the Tampa and Gulf Coast Railroad Company.  Since the closure of the railroad, the building has been used for a variety of uses.  Currently, it is occupied by the St. Petersburg Clay Company, which rents studio space to ceramics artists.

Article by Ennis Davis



December 27, 2012, 04:25:29 AM
Enjoyed the photo tour and history


December 27, 2012, 05:55:53 AM
Love that Pinellas Trail. Its useful for both recreation AND actually getting to places safely without the need for a car. Here we'd throw it in the middle of nowhere & not connect it with anything (see: Baldwin Trail & S-Line  Greenway).


December 27, 2012, 08:17:14 AM
The Pinellas Trail is great, but let's not be so critical psu.....the trail was built in stages, and the S-line can be the same way (recently extended up to Gateway)....there's also no such thing as "middle of nowhere" in Pinellas County, since the whole thing is urbanized.

Adam W

December 27, 2012, 08:26:19 AM
I really love downtown St Petersburg. It's beautiful and it's really come a long way over the past 10 years or so.


December 27, 2012, 09:24:22 AM
I enjoyed the Pinellas Trail.  My dad attended Gibbs Junior College in the 1960s and growing up, we'd visit friends in the vicinity of 9th Avenue S, and I remember boxcars on the stretch east of 34th Street in the 80s. I ended up riding the trail from downtown St. Pete to downtown Clearwater before turning around to make it back before nightfall.  The next day, I rode through Old Northeast, which is a pretty nice residential historic district.


December 27, 2012, 09:38:56 AM
Here are a few more pics from the Pinellas Trail:


December 27, 2012, 10:31:00 AM
The Pinellas Trail is great, but let's not be so critical psu.....the trail was built in stages, and the S-line can be the same way

Sure it could, but likely won't be. That's kind of the problem here isn't it? Sticking to plans & actually making these types of things usable. It seems Jax has a real problem with this, esp if it's transportation related. It's like the leaders (and a lot of the overall mindset of the population) can't wrap their heads around it if it doesn't include the automobile. They even argue about it in the urban areas, wanting drive up parking spots just like the way it is in the suburbs. Never understanding that the real answer is to lessen car dependency.

The reason I'm so critical is because these things never pan out. I know there's plans for it to, but you see how far those plans have gotten us so far (moratorium). If I'm wrong & the S-Line somehow magically gets wrapped around the whole of Jacksonville in the next 10 years, or even in the core, I'll come right back here & eat crow, let you guys throw eggs at me, whatever you all want. But I'm pretty sure I'm safe. ;D


December 27, 2012, 10:35:58 AM
The Pinellas Trail is great, but let's not be so critical psu.....the trail was built in stages, and the S-line can be the same way

Sure it could, but likely won't be. That's kind of the problem here isn't it? Sticking to plans & actually making these types of things usable. It seems Jax has a real problem with this, esp if it's transportation related.

Actually, Jax has a stellar track record of following through with transportation projects- as long as they are only roadway building project.  Look at how money appeared out of thin air so that we could railroad through the new 9B.  When it comes to any transportation projects that do not involved paving over paradise with arterials, well then you are correct.


December 27, 2012, 10:43:00 AM
While we certainly have our struggles, the Pinellas Trail is 29 years in the making.  I think it supports the notion that these types of projects happen incrementally.  A small starter segment ended up being popular enough to gain the support of voters to fund a larger countywide corridor.

The Fred Marquis Trail began as a vision in 1983. A man whose son was killed while riding his bike, helped form the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organizations Bicycle Advisory Committee, consisting of bicycle enthusiasts. The committee, in conjunction with the Pedestrian Safety Committee, wanted a safe place to enjoy bicycle riding, strolling or jogging. The county had a separate problem - what to do with a 34-mile corridor of abandoned CSX railroad right of way.

The committees’ dream became a reality in 1990, when the first 6-mile section of the Pinellas Trail opened, connecting Taylor Park in Largo to Seminole Park in Seminole. The trail became immensely popular, with usage figures exceeding all expectations. With the passage of the first Penny for Pinellas one-cent local option sales tax, plans were put into motion to connect the County, from north to south, with a continuous trail.


December 27, 2012, 12:36:05 PM
True, you have to start somewhere. But the quote from the article mentions the first leg of Penillas Trail was extremely popular, giving them the momentum to move it forward & expand it. How popular is the S-Line? If I had to guess, I'd say not very. Most people probably don't even know about it, as it's trail head entrance is in a scary (abandoned looking) industrial neighborhood, not to mention rolls through some pretty rough looking areas. Plus, it doesn't really connect to anything. I've ridden it several times & seeing other cyclists isn't too common. They're there, but certainly not in any great numbers.

What I'm getting at with all of this, is why didn't they do something more significant & thought out at first, or connect it to more populated areas? Afraid it might actually be a hit?? It kinda reminds me of the Skyway to nowhere & how they implemented that. "Look, this thing's a failure. Clearly no one wants this type of stuff here. Oh well, we tried." ???


December 27, 2012, 01:00:18 PM
since when is Springfield not a populated area?


December 27, 2012, 01:04:11 PM
By no means am I going to defend the planning behind the S-Line. That was simply a case of winning rails to trails money....probably just like the Pinellas Trail. The S-line just happens to be less than 5 miles long and the Pinellas Trail is on an abandoned countywide rail ROW. With the mobility plan, the intention is to link isolated bike infrastructure to form a comprehensive and integrated bike network.


December 27, 2012, 01:11:44 PM
If anything, they are both the results of Jax being a significant distribution/rail hub and Pinellas not. Other than the S-Line, we don't have any major stretches of abandoned track in the core to convert to multi use trails. Most of those Pinellas cities don't have active rail service today.


December 27, 2012, 07:36:29 PM
If the Vinoy can be brought back from the dead, so too can the Bostwick!


December 27, 2012, 09:05:07 PM
since when is Springfield not a populated area?

You mean the abandoned warehouse district in Springfield? It hasn't been for a long time.


December 27, 2012, 09:20:41 PM
For comparison's sake, Riverside (north of King Street) had a population density of 3,967.3 residents/square mile in the 2010 census.  Springfield (the historic district) had a density of 3,963.8 residents/square mile. The neighborhoods the S-Line penetrates to the west of Springfield (Durkeeville) had 5,322.8 residents/square mile.  They just happen to be minority dominated so we've historically have turned a blind eye toward them.  Nevertheless, every time I've used the S-Line, i've seen most of its usage come from residents in this transit dependent neighborhood, including children who use it to go under I-95 to school.

Durkeeville, one block west of the S-Line.

I believe the revitalization of distressed neighborhoods like Durkeeville are the key to the success of Jacksonville's urban core and any type of infrastructure that improves and better connects them with the rest of the city is a plus.  What we've got to do is find a way to include them in the revitalization process.  If we can do that, we'll find a way (such as adding a rails-WITH-trails commuter rail line) to connect the S-Line to a comprehensive city-wide network.


December 27, 2012, 10:22:48 PM
I don't believe its because they're minorities that we tend not to acknowledge them as much as it is the income level. Poorer people, for whatever reason & no matter their color, tend to not use things like this, be active, ride bikes, etc. Unless its, like you say, out of absolute necessity. I don't know why that is, but its no different here than the poor (white dominated) area I grew up in.

But of course this is just one area. The Line does go through a ton of areas that time forgot too. Some people would be scared by that. I'm not, but I could see how many could. But its like you said, Lake. Connection is everything. We can't just plop them down over abandoned rail lines (thats most likely around abandoned areas) & expect results. Thats the thing that really bothers me about it. It could be great but only if we're dead set on finishing all of these things out. If we half-ass it (like we tend to do), then it might as well not even be there. At least as far as revitalization is concerned.

By no means am I going to defend the planning behind the S-Line. That was simply a case of winning rails to trails money.

This seems to be common. It really seems like we take grant money to funnel projects, no matter how small (S-Line) or big (Skyway), throw them out there so it looks like we're doing something, never finish them out properly & then move on to something else. And when it comes time to actually put up or shut up & actually do something (mobility plan), we stop it. If I didn't know any better, I would say its all done on purpose. But My tin foil hat is at the cleaners, so... :D


January 14, 2014, 10:22:23 AM
I highly recommend reading the book The SEAMLESS CITY understand how downtown St Petersburg and artistic Central Blvd went from a dead space to an exciting place & learn how St Pete because a great American cycling city.


January 14, 2014, 10:41:01 AM
Edgewood Avenue in Jacksonville can easily become the equivlent of the Grand Central Arts District. 
View forum thread
Welcome Guest. You must be logged in to comment on this story.

What are the benefits of having a account?
  • Share your opinion by posting comments on stories that interest you.
  • Stay up to date on all of the latest issues affecting your neighborhood.
  • Create a network of friends working towards a better Jacksonville.
Register now
Already have an account? Login now to comment.