A plan to revitalize part of 22nd Street South in St. Petersburg is being greeted with cautious optimism by business and civic leaders.
The plan would change the zoning of the industrial area to allow for office, retail and housing uses. Artists, neighborhood association leaders and business owners said it looks promising, but they also want more details and opportunities for community input.
The proposal, from developer Joe Furst, founder and managing principal of Place Projects, would create a new zoning category, industrial mixed-use, or I-MIX, along 22nd Street South from 1st Avenue South to 6th Avenue South. Furst, who owns about seven acres in the area, has said he wants a community conversation on the plan. An online stakeholder workshop on Aug. 17 was the first of what Furst said would be several chances for comments.
Rezoning would address several needs, said Pete Sechler, director of the community solutions group at GAI Consultants, who moderated the discussion. It would fill in gaps between large parcels of vacant or underutilized land, link the Deuces Live and Grand Central Main Street Districts and create transit-oriented development to take advantage of the SunRunner Bus Rapid Transit line that will have a stop at 22nd Street South and 1st Avenue South.
“I-MIX, a mixed-used industrial category that the city currently does not have within their zoning portfolio, would provide an opportunity to allow this portion of land which is so critically situated to start to evolve to the new economy,” Sechler said.
Sechler, an urban designer and landscape architect, previously worked on the 2018 Warehouse Arts District/Deuces Live Joint Action Plan. That plan called for more walkable infrastructure by adding sidewalks, lighting and trees, as well as making 22nd Street South and 5th Avenue South livable streets.
The I-MIX proposal is an extension of that plan, said Veatrice Farrell, executive director of The Deuces Live.
“There was a time when the Deuces corridor was live/work/play … The ability to have a mix of housing and for people to be able to walk to jobs on the corridor is incredibly important,” Farrell said. “We have the educational component but what we don’t have is enough housing for young people who need a small space, and there’s not enough small spaces for people to rent or purchase to start a business.”
Investment in the area is badly needed, said Gloria Campbell, a business owner for more than 20 years in Deuces Live.
“The drawback for us has been financial capital and investment and the willingness of, other than public money, to invest in that area,” Campbell said. “The zoning will help, but what attracted me to this was Joe’s attitude that we’re here to help with all aspects of a project.”
Affordability is an important factor, said Howayda Affan, executive director of the Morean Center for the Arts, which has a facility, the Morean Center for Clay, at 440 22nd St. S.
“Artists and arts organizations want their work to be valued and viewed by a wider audience, so economic growth and employment growth would be key in the area,” Affan said.
Affan also wants to see active, pedestrian-friendly spaces.
Foot traffic makes the plan come together, said Mark Aeling, who owns MGA Sculpture Studio at 515 22nd St. S. and is board chairman of the Warehouse Arts District Association.
“The thing that I’m excited about with I-MIX is that it creates a more diverse landscape and more interest, and I think that will bring a broader percentage of population into the area,” Aeling said.
Food should be a big part of the plan, he said.
“A destination where people can go and break bread is a reason to go somewhere, then they stay and shop and hang out,” Aeling said.
One of the larger businesses in the area is 3 Daughters Brewing, at 222 22nd St. S. Mike Harting, 3 Daughters CEO, welcomes further development.
“Our business had 185,000 unique visits in 2019, so people will come to the area. We’ve proven that. Now if we can find a way to link all these together and create synergy, it’s a runaway hit,” Harting said.
The Palmetto Park neighborhood is just south of the proposed I-MIX area. It’s a family-oriented neighborhood, said Kate Thorpe-Eddleman, president of the Palmetto Park Neighborhood Association. She wants to make sure that whatever happens does not negatively affect neighborhood residents.
“With development there is going to be a rise in the cost of living in the surrounding areas. It comes hand in hand with development. As long as that is scaled and we don’t lose sight of what was here before, and the families, to ensure they are not being pushed out as part of this development, that would be my main points,” Thorpe-Eddleman said.
It’s important to get the right mix of uses in the proposed I-MIX area, said Rob Kapusta, president of Fisher & Sauls P.A., a local law firm, and vice president of the Warehouse Arts District Association. But there’s a tradeoff, Kapusta said. Affordable homes means increased density, or more dwelling units per acre. That could mean taller buildings.
“We don’t want to have canyon walls there with super-tall buildings, but with the right type of zoning and setbacks, I think this could be a dynamic example to other states and cities as to how to do it, assuming we get it right,” Kapusta said.
“I don’t want us to look like downtown St. Petersburg, with skyscrapers,” said Campbell. She said it’s important to preserve the historic character of the area, and Farrell agreed, citing past examples of projects, such as Tropicana Field, that have destroyed historic Black neighborhoods in St. Petersburg.
“The history of the African American community and the [public sector] isn’t good. When private investors come in, it’s knowing that every promise that has been made, especially in that area, wasn’t kept. Whatever you say you are going to do, you have to do it,” Farrell said. “People in the neighborhood need to know you are serious about making sure they have opportunities to stay, and that if they have businesses they need to expand, giving them access and opportunities to make their dreams come true.”
At the end of the two-hour discussion, Furst promised transparency.
“I can’t commit that anything will be perfect but the fact that we have a coalition built around this virtual table talking about these issues, trying to address them head on and not shying away from them, is what I’m focused on doing,” Furst said. “This is not a one-time conversation … This is how we’re going to do this going forward.”
For more details on the I-MIX proposal, click here.