ST. PETERSBURG — City Councilman Steve Kornell moved into the Skyway Marina area 16 years ago, drawn by the quiet and diverse neighborhoods he discovered while working for the city’s recreation department.
“I absolutely love it,” he said. “I wouldn’t live in any other neighborhood.”
At the southern tip of the city and Pinellas County, Skyway Marina properties range from modest apartments and homes to million-dollar waterfront estates — all mostly hidden from motorists zipping to and from the nearby Sunshine Skyway causeway.
The tranquility makes for a good place to live and what Kornell calls “just a really laid-back lifestyle,” but people in the district are eager to attract a little more attention — particularly along the underachieving 34th Street business corridor.
In June, Mayor Rick Kriseman joined with the Skyway Marina District economic development group to show off the area’s potential to several dozen businesspeople, investors and corporate officials at a showcase event in the Ceridian office building. He called the district “St. Petersburg’s next great retail and business destination.”
Linda Bowler, executive director of the Skyway Marina District, said the showcase was part of the ongoing effort to publicize the opportunities and assets along the corridor and in surrounding neighborhoods.
“We’re hoping this sparks some interest with some of the developers,” Bowler said. “People just didn’t know what we’re all about.”
City planner Gary Jones, the project manager, said the showcase illustrated the development and profitability potential in what has been a nondescript commercial strip.
“What it’s all about is giving confidence to the private market,” he said. Several people have called back and expressed interest in the area since the meeting on June 24. “That’s why we held it.”
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Created in October 2013, the Skyway Marina District plan was approved in May 2014 to target the strip along 34th Street South, from 54th to 30th avenues.
Last week, Jabil Circuit, the global electronics company headquartered in St. Petersburg, began moving 365 employees into the Ceridian company’s eight-story building at 3201 34th St. N., giving the area two major businesses. Ceridian has been active in promoting the district.
Kornell called the move “great news.”
“The more of that we get to come in, the more of the other stuff that the neighborhoods want to see happen — the shopping and retail and restaurants — will follow,” he said.
The 34th Street corridor has some big retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Publix, a handful of chain restaurants and a marina, along with aging motels and strip centers the city and the district want developed.
Residents of adjacent neighborhoods, where average household incomes exceed $56,000, could generate about $57 million in retail sales, according to the city. Instead, residents must leave the area to shop for many things.
Plans for the district include hotel-residential-retail projects, housing, offices and conference space. The city is putting up $1 million in incentives for the first mixed-use project and $50,000 for the first restaurant with at least 5,000-square-feet and a full liquor bar.
Jones said the area is wide open for midrise development — up to 150 feet, or 15 stories — and the city plans to increase the zoning limits by 50 percent.
“So we’re hoping developers take note of this great opportunity and great profitability in this area and that we can get some high-quality development and business,” he said.
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Jones said the plan envisions a town-center type development, with ground-level stores and housing, hotels or offices above.
Hopes are high, but Bowler said it remains a work in progress.
“We know it’s not going to happen in a year,” she said. “I think it’s just going to take that one signature project to get something started down here.”
Kornell said he at first wondered about the corridor’s attractiveness for condominiums or apartments until he saw the views of Tampa Bay, the beaches and the Skyway from several stories up. “Those are some incredible views,” he said.
Jones said the staff gave tours from the ninth floor of the Ceridian to show off those views to potential developers. “People were very impressed with it,” he said. “That’s a selling point.”
Kornell said the area’s waterfronts, marinas and natural beauty go unnoticed by most people. “I would say if Jimmy Buffett lived in St. Petersburg, he would (be) in the Skyway Marina District,” Kornell said.
The historic 1920s Pink Streets neighborhood, Bahama Shores on Tampa Bay, Broadwater and condominiums near Eckerd College are some of the most highly taxed properties in the county, he said.
Yet there is enough housing for moderate-income working people. And, he said, residents are five minutes from downtown and usually five minutes from Fort De Soto Park — but “not on the Fourth of July.”
However, Kornell said, the area doesn’t get much attention as a business location.
He said his goal is not only to improve the Skyway Marina District, but also to work with the newly created Southside Community Redevelopment Area immediately to the north. Plans for that area call for redevelopment and creating jobs and job training programs in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Kornell said some of those jobs could be in the Skyway Marina District. Many of them might be technical jobs, but he noted that St. Petersburg College has classroom buildings in each area and is committed to training local people for local jobs.
“I think the education piece is more important than the tax incentives (to attract companies), not that they don’t want the incentives,” Kornell said.
“If we’re able to take some folks where there have not been good employment opportunities and help them qualify for those good-paying jobs, that’s going to be transformation. To me, that’s when we really accomplish something.”
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The 34th Street corridor will not need major work to redevelop, he said, and the city’s plans for landscaping, lightning and new gateway signs to identify the district will be noticeable improvements. “So those areas are going to look better, which goes a long way,” Kornell said.
Jones said the signs, expected by the end of the year, and other amenities will help provide a much-needed identity for the district.
“It’s been nondescript. People just used to call it 34th Street South,” he said. “We’re trying to market the district and the properties that are underutilized and on the market or vacant.”
Getting the first developer to commit to the area will be pivotal, Jones said, and that’s why the city is offering the developer incentives.
“When they see someone else profiting, then they’ll be in right behind them,” he said.