We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2021, and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live in what will surely be a changed – and charged – post-Covid world. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2021.
Tech entrepreneur Reuben Pressman would like to see the St. Pete Pier serve as a model for the rest of downtown St. Petersburg.
Pressman, founder and CEO of Presence, and Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the city of St. Petersburg, wants to close Central Avenue to cars from Beach Drive to at least 16th Street, and possibly as far west as 26th Street.
“Think about what’s going on at the Pier and how great that is, and extending that type of community asset all the way down Central for what would be nearly 30 blocks,” Pressman said. “We should allow for different vendors to be set up, with running, biking and scooters trails down the whole road, pedestrianize the whole road and increase outdoor seating.”
In May, in the wake of capacity restrictions to slow the spread of Covid-19, Mayor Rick Kriseman allowed restaurants to to expand outdoor dining space into parking lots and other outdoor areas. Pressman said that initiative should be made permanent, so restaurants can make the makeshift outdoor dining areas look nicer and more inviting.
“It’s both Covid-friendly and future health friendly,” he said.
Pressman’s proposal includes some accommodations for drivers.
Cars would be permitted to travel over Central Avenue on major north-south streets, such as 1st Street, 4th Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, but the cars would not be allowed to turn onto Central. Vehicle traffic would be slower and there would be pedestrian stoplights to ensure safety.
To replace the current parking on Central, Pressman is proposing parking garages on 2nd Avenue North and 2nd Avenue South for drivers coming downtown.
“You create more foot traffic from those garages to Central, which would allow more businesses to pop up and more things to happen on the four blocks between those garages, north and south,” he said.
For visitors who need additional accessibility, parking could be allowed on some side streets, he said.
St. Petersburg already is trending towards a car-free downtown by eliminating parking requirements for new residential developments with living units smaller than 750 square feet.
“I think we’re not so dependent on cars downtown as much as we used to be. It’s only going to become less dependent, and it takes things like to this to create that next step,” Pressman said.