The large parcels of vacant land along 22nd Street South between 1st Avenue South and 6th Avenue South currently act like a moat, separating the Grand Central District, Deuces Live and the Warehouse Arts District.
Developer Joe Furst, founder and managing principal of Place Projects, wants to turn that area into a bridge, connecting what he believes are some of the most interesting parts of the city.
Furst described his proposal to change the zoning of the five-block area, and the coalition he is building around the concept, at a meeting of the Florida Economic Club this week.
“You have the most compelling vibrant center in the Grand Central District, which to me has the most interesting businesses along Central Avenue today. You have the historically interesting cultural center of the Deuces and Black St. Pete to the south. You have the Warehouse Arts District to the west,” Furst said. “Yet there’s this underlying stretch of industrial zoning that is acting as a moat separating all these neighborhoods, that really should be a bridge.”
Furst, who has acquired 7.5 acres of vacant land along 22nd Street South, has proposed a new zoning classification — industrial mixed-use, or IMIX, for an area between 1st Avenue South and 6th Avenue South. Key elements would include:
• Mid-rise buildings, four stories to seven stories high
• Ground-floor modern industrial use such as maker space or gallery space
• Arts-related retail, including less restrictive parking requirements
• Office and residential uses on upper floors
“My goal is to see uncapped density,” Furst said “The age-old idea of having a cap on dwelling units per acre is the quickest way to create a lack of affordability in a city that believes it has an affordability crisis. I want to have unlimited density.”
The area is only a quarter mile from a SunRunner Bus Rapid Transit stop that will be on 1st Avenue South at 22nd Street.
“With BRT within a quarter mile of this location, not thinking about progressive policy could be a tremendous miss for the city of St. Petersburg,” Furst said.
Furst wants the new zoning and the development it would allow to be part of the Vision 2050 plan. He said his intent is to pave the way for that, through education and discussions to build support for the idea, in public forums so there is no skepticism that the work is being done behind closed doors.
“My hope is this will be a city initiative as part of Vision 2050, but I felt that it was my duty and obligation to front-run a lot of this conversation and make it as public as possible,” Furst said.
Fueling small business
Furst is a lawyer by practice, but after he finished business school in 2007, he wanted to get a real estate job. He was hired by the late Tony Goldman, founder of Goldman Properties, a Miami company that focuses on historic preservation. When Furst was hired, Goldman Properties was starting work on Wynwood, a warehouse and industrial district in midtown Miami.
Furst took on leadership for the project, creating policies related to planning and zoning, including the Wynwood Walls, which showcase street art.
“The thing I was most passionate about there was fueling small business and entrepreneurs, and capitalizing multiple operating business such as Panther Coffee and Zak the Baker,” Furst said. “Those are businesses we capitalized. They were working out of their homes, and we provided the capital and resources to allow them to grow.”
Zak the Baker now provides products to 19 Whole Foods in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Panther Coffee has six retail locations, including its Wynwood shop.
In 2016, Furst was looking for new opportunities in Florida when he came to St. Petersburg. Here, he saw parallels to his experience in Miami, but it wasn’t until about 18 months ago that he had the opportunity to acquire what he felt was enough scale to make an impact.
He said he didn’t come in with preconceived ideas about what needed to happen in the area.
“I believe in place-based policy making and place-based connectivity and place-based thinking,” Furst said. “As an outsider, I said I’m not the one who knows best. Let me partner with the local neighborhoods and build a coalition around these ideas.”
Deuces Live, a Main Street District representing an historically Black community, is a “tremendous supporter,” Furst said. Others are the Warehouse Arts District Association, Grand Central District, Morean Arts Center and several individual businesses in the area.
Working in St. Petersburg is the most interesting, complex and educational experience he’s had, Furst said.
“In Wynwood, it was easy. I created a business improvement district there and chaired it. We had a board of people coming from the same place. I didn’t have a single bit of opposition in 20+ hearings,” Furst said. “Here it is a lot more nuanced, a lot more granular and frankly a lot more exciting.”
He’s been asked about extending the IMIX plan further south, towards The Deuces, and said that’s not why he’s in St. Pete.
“My goal is to try to facilitate other people’s success by listening to what they want. The last thing I’m here to do is to try to tell someone who’s been here for 30 years and has a great history further south what they need to do to be successful,” Furst said. “In terms of my work with the Deuces, it’s more about listening. These are your goals and these are the touchpoints I can try to do to help.”
He also takes issue with the idea that some critics have raised, that the IMIX project will hurt low-income residents.
“This is not gentrification. These are primarily vacant sites … The past uses there were industrial in nature, I’m trying to create a new physical environment to better connect neighborhoods,” Furst said.
Furst said St. Petersburg is in “early days” for where it is going to go. He said the city already has amazing “hardware” or physical spaces, such as parks and the St. Pete Pier, as well as “software,” such as restaurants, coffee shops and art.
“Think about Tampa Bay being the fourth fastest-growing metro in the country. Think about the lifestyle elements St. Pete offers and think about all those hardware and software elements. I think there’s a lot more to be done and I’m excited to be part of it,” Furst said.
Furst has established a website for the proposal. Click here for more information.