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Could a redesign of Williams Park be in play?

Veronica Brezina



Williams Park, in downtown St. Pete. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

Members of St. Petersburg’s homeless population tend to congregate in downtown Williams Park. The park is underutilized by families and visitors, but it could be flipped into one of the city’s most desirable destinations, according to the businessman behind Manhattan’s redeveloped Bryant Park.

“A lot of people have been asking, what do you think of Williams Park? I think it could be great and not be very expensive [to redesign],” renowned urban consultant Dan Biederman said Tuesday during the Downtown St. Petersburg Partnership’s Development Summit, inside the Palladium Theater’s Hough Hall.  

Biederman, the keynote speaker at the event, started his career in the 1980s and is known for turning Bryant Park into a popular and vibrant gathering spot. 

Urban redevelopment expert Dan Biederman onstage inside St. Pete’s Palladium Theater. Photo by Veronica Brezina.

“I would argue there aren’t huge social problems either [at Williams Park] … Bryant Park was in much worse shape,” Biederman said, listing parallels and differences between Williams Park and Bryant Park; the latter was rife with crime before the streetscape was enhanced and amenities were introduced. 

“When there’s programming in a public space, people are drawn to them; it makes them safer,” he said, explaining when people think of programming, they automatically translate it to large concerts and festivals that may only take place periodically and require hefty funding resources. 

However, rather than solely relying on those one- or two-day events, Biederman said programming should be integrated at various times every day, such as having early morning yoga classes, events for visiting families in the mid-morning and food options in the afternoon for business people on their lunch breaks. 

A presented aerial sketch of Bryant Park showed a concert venue, cafes, other food and beverage operators and recreational areas where people play ping pong and chess. 

A 2022 yoga event at Bryant Park in Manhattan. Facebook page image.

Through Biederman’s New York-based firm, Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, his team also spearheaded the redesign of additional prominent public projects, including Titletown District – an activated area surrounding the Green Bay Packers’ stadium (Lambeau Field) in Wisconsin. 

Biederman also shared that one of the smartest strategies in elevating Bryant Park was collecting input from a focus group of women about how the public restrooms should be designed. 

The goal was to create restrooms that would be on par with competing nearby hotels. The restrooms in Bryant Park feature coffered ceilings, recessed lighting and full-length mirrors.

“It keeps people in the public space longer and makes it more crowded,” he said. “It’s been a huge success.”

Biederman emphasized how the revitalized park has a significant ripple effect on adjacent real estate, such as generating higher rents inside the 49-story W. R. Grace Building skyscraper in Manhattan, across the street. 

“It’s tremendous how much value you can create for the real estate community. Mayor [Ken] Welch, the money comes back to you,” Biederman said, explaining that the 1.3 million-square-foot Grace Building is seeing a bump in rental rates due to the activeness of Bryant Park, resulting in an annual rent increase of $19.5 million – as well as additional taxes for the city. 

A romanticized vision for Williams Park would come at a cost, Biederman said, but the city wouldn’t be the one footing the bill, resorting to taking funds from the current tax base or general revenue pot. 

For example, with the assistance of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, private management backed the private funding for Bryant Park – a tactic the City of St. Petersburg could conceivably follow. 

Downtown St. Petersburg Partnership CEO and President Jason Mathis said the Partnership is currently contemplating an idea to establish a business improvement district in downtown, which would encompass Williams Park.

Tampa, Jacksonville and neighboring cities in South Florida have variations of this, according to Mathis. A business improvement district would allow the city to collect a new additional tax and apply those taxes to implement services. 

The conceptual idea is in the preliminary stage and has not yet been presented to the city council. 

The proposed district would be bounded by 5th Avenue N. and 5th Avenue S. extending toward the waterfront.

The recommended fee would be $1 per $1,000 taxable property value, affecting certain stakeholders.

More news from the event

Historian Gwendolyn Reese, president of the African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg, one of several speakers, said the city has made progress in acknowledging the continued racism and social inequalities throughout its history.

She has rolled out the “Taking it to the Streets” initiative, funded by Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete, to talk with groups, churches and residents about the structural racism study completed last year, in order to help people gain a better understanding of what it’s like living as a Black person in St. Petersburg.

Reese said the Welch administration is creating an equity office, reviewing existing city policies after completing a structural racism study, and applying those lessons in the requirements outlined for the future redevelopment of the Gas Plant District/Tropicana Field. 

The free trolley tours for the Heritage Trail will be returning, she said. 

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  1. Avatar

    Debi Mazor

    March 1, 2023at5:29 pm

    Heaven help us if the New Yorkers want to turn St Pete into a mini-Manhattan, as one of the speakers at the Downtown Partnership (of developers) Summit suggested yesterday. Leave our Wms Park alone please! We don’t need public bathrooms that rival those of the best hotels. Those of us who love the Park (a broad segment of the population) and enjoy it for what it is and how it is used are not interested in raising the rents around it by 15% or more.

  2. Avatar

    Randy Weiner

    March 1, 2023at6:16 pm

    Please don’t pretend speak for everyone. I would love to see improvements made to Williams Park. They are needed. Bryant Park is amazing. My favorite spot in NYC! Thank-you Mr. Biederman for your expertise.

  3. Avatar


    March 1, 2023at8:08 pm

    Call it what it is.

    It’s an open air drug market and a failure of the city.

  4. Avatar


    March 1, 2023at8:26 pm

    Screw it let’s build a condo tower on it

  5. Avatar

    Rita Sewell

    March 2, 2023at10:05 am

    I attended the Development Summit event at the Palladium on Tuesday, February 28, 2023. This portion of the program, with its comments about increasing the value of the properties surrounding Williams Park as has been accomplished at Bryant Park in NYC. It was interesting, but the two parks have significant differences.

    The “I Love the Burg” founder admitted he wanted St Petersburg to be “a mini Manhattan,” which sounds like a reason to be concerned on many levels. Williams Park is 1/3 the size of Bryant Park Fancy restrooms will require staff as we become a downtown of expensive high-rise buildings and a community of unaffordable housing. Is The St Petersburg Downtown Partnership working with the StPete2050 draft we worked on as a community? Have exceptionally wealthy people hijacked our City?

    *Bryant Park is a 9.6-acre (39,000 m2) public park located in the New York City borough of Manhattan. Privately managed, it is located between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue) and between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan.

    *Williams Park is a 3.37-acre (13,656 m2) located in St. Petersburg, Florida. It is the city’s first park and encompasses an entire city block between 4th and 3rd Streets North and between 2nd and 1st Avenues North. Founded in 1888 and originally named “City Park,” it was changed to Williams Park in honor of the co-founder of St. Petersburg, John Constantine Williams Sr.[1] The park is bordered by The Duke Energy Building, American Stage on the east, First United Methodist Church on the north, St Peter’s Episcopal Church, The historic Princess Martha on the west, and a collection of nine businesses on the south.

    The presentation was interesting as the comparison of developing a park the size of Williams Park with Bryant Park as a model reminded me of the proposed EYE at St Pete Pier. The presenter was not really aware of the locale or the size and scope of our local park.

  6. Avatar

    George Gower

    March 2, 2023at5:51 pm

    The actual park grass in Bryant Park is 4 acres when you take out the NY Library portion, close to the 3.7 acres of Williams Park. The library is very cool and has a museum in it also. Why not activate the area around the Mirror Lake Library and the east side of the lake too which is mostly parking and include the Senior Citizens and the Banyan tree and some of the over sized shuffle board area?

  7. Avatar

    Mirela S.

    March 3, 2023at10:05 am

    I’d like to urge the City not to erase and ignore the needs of members of our community who are experiencing homelessness and live at Williams Park. Their needs must be considered and incorporated into any future plans for the park. I’m sure menu developers are very eager to swoop in and redevelop this prime piece of land, but that should not be the primary focus. Let’s create something that serves the people of St. Pete in the most beneficial way.

  8. Avatar


    March 4, 2023at4:28 am

    It’s difficult for some of us “old timers” to see the on going changes in the downtown area, most for the good, however concerned that the history of St Pete’s beginning seems to be moving further & further away. In my opinion some of the historic should be cherished & honored.

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