ST. PETE BEACH — A clearer future vision for this beach town’s aging commercial district is beginning to take shape.
In the future, Corey Avenue could take visitors from sunrise to sunset on a sidewalk lined with outdoor dining and shops that runs from Boca Ciega Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, according to a report commissioned by St. Pete Beach city officials.
On the Gulf side, where there’s now a small park for fishing, a city parking lot and a handful of restaurants, there could be a plaza or small pier where tourists could watch the sun set from Blind Pass.
On the east side, there could be a three- to five story mixed-use development with hotel rooms or residential apartments overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. A pedestrian bridge might pass over 75th Avenue to help people cross the busy causeway to attend events at Horan Park.
Those were among the biggest suggestions that came out of a study by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council that included public meetings over the spring and summer.
At its Tuesday meeting, the City Commission is expected to vote on a plan to make a large swath of St. Pete Beach a Community Redevelopment Area, which would bring in extra tax revenue in coming years to fund changes to the city’s outdated core.
“I’m hoping we’re getting close to doing something besides talking about all this,” said Vice Mayor Lorraine Huhn.
“If we’re going to do what needs to be done, and that is to show any development group that St. Pete Beach is open for business, we have to have some plan or some concept that could be developed.”
Specifically, city commissioners are considering what could be developed in public right of way spaces on the east and west ends of Corey Avenue.
The city owns about 1.5 empty acres along the Intracoastal that’s adjacent to the Blue Parrot Bar & Grille and an auto repair shop. Combined, they could make a prime location for a mixed-use development that would extend retail activity to the eastern waterfront.
Avera Wynne, who’s with the planning council, told commissioners at a meeting last month the value of this waterfront land would drive developers to build a dense, high-end project there.
“You’ve got to be able to afford to do it, right? So, you’ve got expensive land, and you want to bring residential in and you want retail in; but, at the same time, you want to maintain the character you have.
“So, you’re looking at probably three to five stories, not too tall, but with the ability to get enough units in there to make it viable.”
Residents at that meeting, such as John Michaels, said new development needs to appeal to tourists who will visit and spend money year-round rather than residential condominiums that only house people during the winter.
Michaels also worried that too much tall, high-end development would turn off visitors who come to enjoy St. Pete Beach’s laid-back, old-fashioned beach vibe.
“They come to St. Pete Beach because it gives them a feeling of when. This beach is homey, and it’s different,” he said.
Fears about overdevelopment transforming this mostly low-rise beach town into just another row of towering resorts have fueled protracted legal battles between residents and city officials over the city’s comprehensive development plan, which allows for higher density hotels along a designated part of Gulf Boulevard.
City commissioners recently re-adopted that plan, though a final lawsuit that seeks to invalidate is in appeal.
Many elements of the Planning Council’s vision for Corey Avenue have been embraced by residents. The plan would create pedestrian walkways on both ends of the avenue that would help people cross busy streets that cut off the waterfront.
It calls for a unified design and street-scaping along the entire street as well as adding or reviving destination businesses like the closed Beach Theatre.
The 1940s-era theater is an ideal destination for capitalizing on St. Pete Beach’s reputation as a family-friendly destination, said longtime Gulf Boulevard resident Carol Walker.
“I want people to come here for a family day of outing enjoying the beach, enjoying shopping, enjoying eating and enjoying a movie,” she said.
The City Commission’s next move is to approve a contract with the planning consultation firm Tindale-Oliver to finish the community redevelopment area plan, which must be submitted to the county for approval.
If the CRA is approved, the city would collect any increase in county property taxes above current values within the area to use for improvements.
The area would extend from the Corey Avenue area south along a large sliver of Gulf Boulevard to down to around 38th Avenue.