This holiday season, we asked some of St. Pete’s best and brightest citizens to share one catalyzing idea for making St. Pete a better place to live. We asked not for lists of problems, but for meaty, actionable and impactful solutions, no matter how big or how small.
Jonathan Daou, president and creative director at Eastman Equity.
St. Pete is experiencing unprecedented growth, providing us with an amazing opportunity to re-invest in our downtown. People come here to experience the beautiful weather, the beaches, and the arts scene, but they keep coming back for the local vibe. We can continue to drive interest and curiosity by building upon the vibrant core of small shops and restaurants that are already here, offering discovery and opportunity for visitors and locals alike.
There has been significant growth in retail along Beach Drive and Central Avenue in recent years, because retailers want to be located where the pedestrians are. This extreme concentration of retailers along these two corridors creates a supply and demand problem, whereby small business owners often feel the pinch of higher rent. The City of St. Petersburg should take advantage of its walkable grid system by incentivizing developers and landlords to build or convert ground floor space to retail in order to drive pedestrian traffic to all major downtown avenues and streets. You see this in so many other cities, like the East Village and NoLiTa in New York, for example, where landlords have, for years now, converted ground floor apartments into retail. It would be extremely beneficial if the City of St. Petersburg would adopt changes to the code that significantly increased the requirements for ground-floor retail, when developing between Beach Drive and 16th Street, bounded by 5th Avenue North and 5th Avenue South.
This idea of an urban village where the life of the city is built on the back of retail is what St. Pete seems to be striving for, but we don’t have a municipal code that guides this sort of infill development. I am a big supporter of Darden Rice’s plan for complete neighborhoods, whereby she focuses on a number of principles, including the creation of affordable commercial space within neighborhoods that would establish opportunities for neighborhood residents to walk to work. Making sure that new infill development provides significantly more retail space would alleviate the supply and demand problem, while at the same time fostering more walkable neighborhoods. The key to building vibrant urban neighborhoods is to make sure people’s daily needs are met, while also providing activities and programming. The more storefronts you have, the more opportunities you have to engage with your residents and visitors.