Downtown Revitalization: St. Petersburg

December 27, 2012 19 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

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

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