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Developer envisions a new look for St. Pete’s 22nd Street South

Margie Manning

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Joe Furst, founder and managing principal of Place Projects

Some four years after developer Joe Furst started thinking about opportunities in the 22nd Street South corridor in south St. Petersburg, he’s asking for public input on a plan to revitalize the area.

Furst, founder and managing principal of Place Projects, is working with local community groups on an initiative to rezone the area, creating the potential for new uses, including offices and residential uses,  on what is now mostly vacant land along 22nd Street between 1st Avenue and 6th Avenue South.

He wants to open up a community conversation on the proposal, which is still nearly a year away from any potential vote in the St. Petersburg City Council.

A newly established project website, 22imix.com, is an information portal and community engagement tool, Furst said.

“My goal is building consensus. To me, communicating and transparency is the most important part of any planning or rezoning initiative,” he said.

At least one local business owner said that communication is key. Kara Behar, owner of The Factory, St. Pete, wants to ensure the plan takes into account the historical and cultural significance of 22nd Street South. Behar, whose husband owns Behar+Peteranecz: Architecture, wants to ensure the preservation of this historically Black neighborhood in St. Pete is taken into consideration.

‘Something is broken’

One of Place Projects’ best-known initiatives is the Wynwood District in Miami, a trendy area known for colorful murals and converted warehouses housing craft breweries and art galleries.

When Furst initially came to St. Petersburg four years ago looking for development opportunities, he was immediately drawn to the Warehouse Arts District, which reminded him of Wynwood.

He couldn’t find development opportunities at that time, so he focused on other areas of St. Petersburg. Working with Tricera Capital, Place acquired and developed properties downtown, including working with Maple Street Biscuit Co. in the 600 block of Central Ave.

But the possibilities of the area along 22nd Street South stuck with him, because it is the convergence of several neighborhoods.

“You have a vibrant core in the Grand Central District along Central Avenue. You have a ton of amazing arts and culture-related uses in the Warehouse Arts District. And you have the South St. Pete Deuces Live Main Street further south, where there are great things happening, but they want to continue economic development and success there,” Furst said.

The connector between those areas is 22nd Street South between 1st Avenue and 6th Avenue South, he said. “There’s a swath of industrial zoning that occupies that stretch of real estate and when you see the vacant parcels and lack of development, it’s clear something is broken there,” he said.

Since August 2018, Place Project has acquired about seven acres of mostly vacant land in the 22nd Street South corridor.

Place Projects land assemblage

Since then, Furst has been talking with community groups, including Deuces Live Main Street Association and the Warehouse Arts District Association, about the proposed rezoning plan.

Economic viability

Under the current zoning code, the most economically viable projects are not allowed, Furst said.

“Under existing industrial zoning, you can’t have office as a primary use, you can’t have retail as a primary use. You can have some maker spaces or arts-related spaces, but generally if you’re trying to create economic viability for those vacant parcels, the uses available to us in the modern economy, most of those are precluded by the industrial zoning,” Furst said.

He would like to see a proposed new zoning classification, industrial mixed-use or I-MIX, which would preserve the industrial character of the area while allowing for increased intensity.

If city officials approve the new zoning, new construction in the area could have light industrial uses, such as maker spaces, galleries and breweries, on first-floor levels, with commercial office space and residential uses on upper floors. There would be a wide range of price points for the housing, helping meet city goals to create more attainable housing.

One of the parcels Place Projects owns abuts the Pinellas Trail, which Furst hopes to highlight as part of any future development.

“The Pinellas Trail is an under-used and under-appreciated element that runs through the county. If you look at other rails-to-trails initiatives in other places in the country, you typically see a lot more engagement on those trails with more development of sites along the trail. To me, it’s a huge attribute I hope we can celebrate with the work we’re doing.”

The SunRunner, the Bus Rapid Transit Project that will run along 1st Avenue South, also is a huge asset and part of Place Projects’ policy rationale, Furst said.

Historic significance

As a business owner and property owner in the Warehouse Arts District, Behar said she understands the benefits of the proposed development. But she also feels a moral obligation to advocate for the community and to use her voice to make sure the important conversations around gentrification are had.

“Given the historical and cultural significance of 22nd Street, it is important to recognize and ask how the city and private developers are coming together to both improve the area for the greater community at large and also make reparations for past actions, so that the Deuces Live/22nd Street remains a key part of the south St. Petersburg community and retains its cultural identity,” Behar said.

Furst said he has spent time getting up to speed on the history of the community.

“If you think about what actually exists between 1st Avenue South and 6th Avenue South, it’s a brewery, Brick Street Farms, which are adaptions of warehouses, but it’s primarily vacant land. And when you think about the goals of the Deuces and the Warehouse Arts District, they’ve all been about fostering growth through pedestrian viability and becoming more effectively  accessible for pedestrians and visitors,” Furst said.

“When you have a large area of land in the middle of those neighborhoods that’s vacant land and has no ability for development or no economic viability because of the underlying zoning, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed. So this is far different from what most people consider a typical gentrification project where there are single family homes or low-rise apartment building that have some form of mixed-use zoning but don’t have additional intensity, where someone wants to come in and create additional intensity, to raze what’s existing and build something new.

“What we are trying to do is act as a catalyst to bridge the neighborhoods and if you look at the area in the proposal, there is not a single residential person that would be displaced from the area,” Furst said.

 Parallel process with Vision 2050

Any zoning changes are months away. The city is currently getting input for potential comprehensive plan changes and zoning amendments under its Vision 2050 process, and Furst sees the I-MIX proposal running in parallel with that process.

He doesn’t expect the plan and any zoning changes to come before the St. Petersburg City Council until the second quarter of 2021.

“From today until then we have two main goals. The first is workshopping more specific details as to what we want this code to allow and prohibit, and we’ll be doing that thru workshops with Deuces and Warehouse Arts District and other key stakeholders involved,” he said.

“At the same time, we want to cast a wide web for public engagement. The rationale for what I do is to make community-centric projects and plans, and to do that you need people to engage and give you their opinions, good bad or indifferent, so you can appropriately structure and build a framework for the future growth of that area.”

Place Projects

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Place Projects' conceptual rendering of 22nd Street South with new land use and zoning concepts

Note: This story has been updated to correct Kara Behar’s professional affiliation.

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6 Comments
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6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mirela Setkic

    July 21, 2020 at 3:44 pm

    Based on what’s in this article, this is basically another gentrification project that will not cater to the needs of residents who live in the 22nd Street South neighborhoods. I’ve spoken to several people from the community and not a single one was happy about this project. It’s concerning that the developer is going to ask the city to change the current zoning laws for the area, most likely so the developer can build out commercial/residential buildings that will cater to people who don’t live in the immediate area. The 22nd Street South area doesn’t need to be re-imagined. It already has a rich story and history that needs to be celebrated. It doesn’t need its story rewritten by a commercial developer. Its story should be told by its community members who have been there for generations and are part of what makes 22nd Street South an amazing historic part of our city. I am most definitely going to follow this story and also work with other locals to make sure that local residents’ voices are heard and counted at every meeting and hearing about this project.If anyone else who reads this is interested in joining me, please reach out to me. We can’t let commercial developers tell our city’s history and “re-imagine” our future.

    • Avatar

      valeria Steward

      July 23, 2020 at 11:03 pm

      I was born and raised right here in St. Pete. I have watched over time slowly the land has been redirected for the profit of outsiders. They have no respect for the people or the history that this area represents for us. My mother told me that at one time this area was predominately own by whites. It took much blood, sweat, and tears for the black people that build this community to accomplish this. The first black philanthropist donated the land for Jordan Park. The main black business was on 22nd Street. Some of the most popular black artist performed right at the Manhattan on this street. Ice cream parlors, doctors offices, hair dressers,pharmacist, crab shops, clubs…. 22nd Street had it all. Now, you say you want to revitalize the area but there is no talk of giving back to the area what it needs for the people that need it. Go back where you came from and change your area. All you looking for is profit for your pockets and to oppress the people of the area and push them farther out of there homes. 22nd Street will never be what you want it to be as long as your intention are not for the people that live and belong here. If what you build is not going to cater to us it will not work unless you drive us all out. Hummm….could that be the original plan?

  2. Avatar

    Mike Peters

    July 21, 2020 at 9:16 pm

    Man. That’s a spot on comment. Well done. If you let white men “reimagine” it’s a disaster for anyone who isn’t a white man.

  3. Avatar

    Evelyn Long

    July 22, 2020 at 12:06 pm

    Sounds like a lot of development that will only cater to white, upper middle class residents in an effort to expand the already gentrified downtown area. Disappointing.

  4. Avatar

    Bianca Kendall

    July 22, 2020 at 2:26 pm

    Sigh. When I visit this part of St Pete, I always take long routes to appreciate a bit more of the street art and flavor of the community. The black identity of the community is as prevalent as the Cuban identity in Ybor. It’s rich and beautiful. I don’t know why white developers want to gentrify this amazing, historic part of our city and twist it’s identity. St Pete is special. Embrace this part of our community and help revitalize it.

  5. Avatar

    Avery Moore

    July 23, 2020 at 5:58 pm

    The idea of this alone is devastating. This cannot and will not happen in Saint Petersburg. The Dueces is not broken and it’s insulting the community is being referred to in any sense. If you want to hear from the city, you certainly will. This excerpt, “…wants to ensure the preservation of this historically Black neighborhood in St. Pete is taken into consideration.” Taken into consideration? It is abundantly clear Joe Furst and his team of developers have one group of people in mind, and that is themselves. I will be following up following up on this with city council, organizing peers, and watching this closely.

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