ST PETERSBURG - Neighborhood and city leaders gathered under the baking sun at the Maximo Park waterfront Tuesday to laud seven newly revamped boat launches.
The project is the latest accomplishment in a yearslong effort to spruce up the popular Pinellas Point park - an effort some believe could bolster economic development on St. Petersburg's economically lagging south side.
In recent years, the county has extended paved pedestrian trails into the area, while city officials have been renovating boat launches in Bay Vista, Grandview, Lake Maggiore and Maximo parks. The Maximo upgrade included replacing seven boat launches and four stationary docks.
The Maximo Park facilities had been in bad shape for years.
"I lost a few tires in that ramp," said charter boat captain Rafael Rios. "Every time you brought the boat back out it would go crooked.
"I've been using that ramp for over 20 years, and it was way overdue for them to do something."
Many boaters have drifted away from the Maximo Park ramp over the years as its quality deteriorated, instead launching from Fort DeSoto or nearby O'Neill's Marina, Rios said. The new amenities are likely to bring people back: Maximo, after all, offers the closest public ramp to the Sunshine Skyway, which fishermen love because it has some of the deepest water in the area, Rios said.
"That place is going to be booming," he said. "There's too many fishermen for that ramp not to be used."
At least 75 boats use the launches there now, at least on weekends, according to the city's Parks and Recreation department.
Increasing that number could be a boon to businesses in the surrounding area.
"I think all those kinds of amenities add value in any part of the city, but especially in South St. Pete," said Councilman Steve Kornell, whose district includes Maximo Park. "I think it enhances a whole range of businesses."
Local restaurants, bait shops and convenience stores are sure to benefit, but the enhanced water access may provide a boost to property value in the surrounding area by attracting home buyers who own boats and want to be near the water without buying more expensive waterfront property, Kornell said.
A recently opened bicycle and pedestrian path that now links the Pinellas Trail to Clam Bayou and the Sunshine Skyway fishing pier may also help nearby businesses.
"It's probably more indirect than direct," said Gary Jones, the city's director of planning and economic development. "It's all about increasing users, increasing ridership."
Jones is leading a nascent effort to redevelop a stretch of 34th Street South to make it a more supportive corridor for businesses. Assets such as the trail and Maximo Park, which is also home to a popular disc golf course and many picnic shelters, are key factors for bringing traffic to a blighted area Jones hopes will become a "destination."
"If you increase the users of a facility you increase patronage to the business districts that surround them," he said. "It just makes sense."
Community leaders also see the Maximo Park upgrades complementing the corridor redevelopment plan, once it's in place.
"[The strategy will] also bring more development opportunities and business and more prosperity to the south side," said Jodi Davis, president of the Greater Pinellas Point Neighborhood Association.
The archaeological elements at Maximo Park, including rare Tocobaga Indian mounds from centuries ago, should also bolster the local economy, she said.
"It's totally archeologically significant," Davis said. "Which leads to business development, tourism. It's crucial."
Tribune reporter Josh Boatwright contributed to this report.