Life is good on ‘Edge’ near Trop in St. Petersburg
ST. PETERSBURG -
Denise Rispoli didn’t think much of the neighborhood when she moved her organic café into a storefront on Central Avenue near 16th Street in 2009.
The rent was good, but running into a nude man in her parking lot in the first month and that feeling she might get mugged late at night were bad.
Besides, baseball fans weren’t particularly game for vegan dining at Leafy Greens Café after knocking back a few beers at Tropicana Field a few blocks to the south.
Rispoli didn’t see much foot traffic.
“You’d never see people in sun dresses walking down the street in this area,” Rispoli said.
A lot has changed since then along this short corridor of apartments and businesses between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 16th Street.
A condominium complex and upscale apartments on the district’s east and west ends have filled up with hundreds of people.
New businesses have opened in retail spaces that either had sat empty or had seen a revolving door of tenants year after year.
There’s a farmer’s market on Wednesdays.
Most importantly, the neighborhood now has a name and a logo. It no longer is the Dome District or just a nameless gap between downtown and Grand Central – it’s the EDGE district -- that is, Entertainment, Dining, Galleries Etc.
To make it more official, a coalition of residents and business owners is applying to the state for designation as a Main Street like the popular neighboring district to the west.
Aside from the notoriety, the designation would push the district to establish an office and hire a full-time manager to organize the business community and market it.
EDGE residents want the St. Petersburg City Council to allocate $150,000 to help them pay for a full-time manager for the first three years, in line with the city’s past financial support of Grand Central.
“Because we’re just starting out, we need that commitment and a resolution from the city that they will back us and they will put it in the budget for next year,” said LeAnn Barlas, president of the EDGE district’s association.
This is what city planners had in mind in the 1980s when Tropicana Field was being built just to the south.
But the completion of Tropicana Field didn’t immediately spur redevelopment.
What has seemed to push this 190-acre area from the margins in recent years is an influx of people living here.
A first wave of development brought the 1010 Central condos in 2007, but the recession killed other planned projects.
One exception was Fusion 1560, a high-end apartment complex that runs to 16th Street, which opened to a slow start in 2011 but now is at nearly full occupancy.
Rick Smith, the city’s community redevelopment coordinator, says it has taken a while, but the appeal of urban living finally has taken root west of downtown.
“I would say the area is certainly evolving in the manner we envisioned it. It just hasn’t been as fast as the rest of downtown,” he said.
Now there are people in sundresses walking to Leafy Greens and to Bodega, a Cuban food stand that opened earlier this year at 1120 Central Avenue.
A new café, Genaro Coffee, opened last month on Central. It’s the first place in town to offer java until 1 a.m., a show of confidence that there are enough night owls nearby to stay open late.
Bodega’s owner, George Sayegh, says the amount of foot traffic in the neighborhood made it a good bet for his business being a success.
“We never felt like we were taking a chance down here. We felt like this neighborhood was ready,” he said.
Sayegh and other business owners say their business isn’t driven by Tampa Bay Rays games, but rather local residents and outside visitors.
This stability shows it’s the right time for the EDGE to become the next Main Street neighborhood, pushing forward the city’s agenda to create a string of vibrant districts along the entire length of Central Avenue, Barlas said.
“We’re always going to be a part of something bigger,” she said.
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