St. Pete aims to improve 34th Street South
ST. PETERSBURG - As a retail district, the south side of 34th Street is hit and miss. On alternating blocks you’ll find a newer Wal-Mart and a full shopping center anchored by a Publix supermarket and chain restaurants such as Bob Evans and IHOP. In between, though, there’s an aging adult superstore, faded motels and rundown shopping centers with empty store fronts. City officials are targeting a portion of 34th Street South, between 30th and 54th avenues, for redevelopment and are hosting a meeting Tuesday to get community input on a plan they hope eventually will attract new investment.That investment probably won’t come soon enough for Sean Cavanaugh, whose Brewburgers restaurant is up for sale. The casual restaurant and bar has an attractive facade in a newer building between an IHOP and a Subway at 4195 34th St. S. However, the rundown environs around him – including a derelict former Thai restaurant across the street and the almost-empty Skyway Mall to the south don’t make for an appealing destination to customers passing through, he said. The city should ease up on much of their regulation eliminating fees, easing zoning and signage restrictions – and offer incentives to lure developers here, Cavanaugh said . “When you get more businesses down here, then the people will come,” Cavanaugh said. “But until that happens, everyone is going to limp along, just get along.” No idea is off the table for spurring growth, according to Gary Jones from the city’s Planning and Economic Development department. The city is forming a steering committee of business owners and residents to guide the creation of an improvement plan, which Jones said should be completed by October and set before City Council early next year. The plan is a first step toward redeveloping the area along the lines of the Central Avenue’s Grand Central District, which took more than a decade to transform into a bustling retail hub, Jones said. “We’re trying to create a district, create a destination, if you will, and instill more confidence in the market and take a look at the shortfalls what needs to be improved, and work off the assets of the area,” Jones said. Those assets include the district’s proximity to the Sunshine Skyway and the waterfront, as well as numerous large lots that could be redeveloped. Of course, there’s no money budgeted for signs, trees or other capital improvements. Crime – or at least the perception of it – continues to be a significant shortfall, though some residents say that’s a misconception. “It’s a perception that’s been prevalent ever since I moved in, but there’s a side to the south side that people aren’t seeing,” said Tom Ando, who has lived in the waterfront Broadwater neighborhood for 27 years. Ando says his part of town has been neglected for decades as the city has spent its time and resources on downtown and north St. Petersburg. There’s a big market from residents in his community and as far away as Tierra Verde and Isla Del Sol, just across the Bayway Bridge, for more and better dining choices. “For the most part, people either go to the Tyrone area or they go to the Fourth Street or downtown to dine,” said Ando, president of the Broadwater Civic Association. Addressing at least some crime issues may be necessary before an Outback Steakhouse moves in, said Brian Kim, who recently renovated the old Skyway Mall, an indoor flea market with a conspicuous amount of empty space. Kim said he observes nightly drug activity and prostitution at nearby motels along 34th Street. The rundown and abandoned properties on the street will continue to attract criminals, he said. “They find a nasty house and then a couple people are moving in. Since then, the next house is going to be like that, the left house is like that, the right house is like that, front house and back house,” said Kim. However, Kim isn’t necessarily interested in seeing 34th Street South transformed into another Tyrone Square Mall. Many of the residents who shop at Skyway Mall are from lower-income neighborhoods that will continue to need stores and restaurants that offer low-cost options. What will benefit everyone, though, is for the city to address the trouble spots for crime, Kim said. “First of all, they’ve got to clean that up,” he said.