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Inside the big plans for St. Pete’s Booker Creek

Mark Parker

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City Councilmember Gina Driscoll called Booker Creek a centerpiece of the Historic Gas Plant District's $6.5 billion redevelopment. Renderings provided.

What was once a natural amenity for historically Black neighborhoods in St. Petersburg now mostly resembles a drainage ditch; however, Booker Creek is on the cusp of a big moment.

The urban stream emerges from a nondescript area near the west side of I-275 and Burlington Avenue North and meanders for roughly three miles in South St. Pete. It flows under Central Avenue, around Tropicana Field, beneath I-175 and through Campbell Park and Roser Park before emptying into Bayboro Harbor on the southern edge of the USF St. Petersburg campus.

Booker Creek once traversed the Historic Gas Plant District, now home to the Trop and its sprawling parking lots. During a redevelopment workshop Thursday, the Tampa Bay Rays discussed plans to restore the culturally significant stream to its former prominence.

“This could be one of the proudest elements of the entire project because of what I’m reading we’re going to do here,” said City Councilmember Gina Driscoll. “And it sounds like you’re working with the best people to make it that way.”

Many of the project’s most prominent aspects border Booker Creek.

St. Petersburg’s first Black mayor, Ken Welch, has repeatedly stressed the importance of partnering with organizations capable of completing a $6.5 billion, 30-year project and are also willing to help restore a community “erased in the name of progress.” That includes creating vibrant greenspaces open to anyone living in or outside the reimagined district.

The waterway is arguably the project’s most significant aspect outside a Major League Baseball stadium – not discussed at Thursday’s nine-hour meeting. The development’s northernmost point, between 1st Avenue North and the Pinellas Trail, will feature the Booker Creek Art Park adjacent to a new Woodson African American Museum.

Multimodal pathways along the revitalized creek will connect the community within and beyond the district. Expansive terraces will offer waterfront seating.

The stream will flow past pocket parks, creek swings, a community lawn, an educational boardwalk and shade pavilion, and stormwater gardens as it flows toward 5th Avenue South. Key development aspects, like a hotel and conference center, will border Booker Creek.

Michael Harrison, senior managing director for co-developer Hines, said EDSA would help transform Booker Creek from a “neglected drainage channel into a major park space and amenity for the entire community.” He called the Florida-based landscape architecture firm “world-renowned.”

Everald Colas, founding principal of Storyn Studio for Architecture, said creek walls would protect replanted native vegetation. A new pedestrian bridge will take Pinellas Trail users over the waterway and into the district. The development team included those “integrated civic spaces” in the project’s first phase.

A diagram highlighting various features around a restored Booker Creek.

They will also implement flood mitigation systems, create biological habitats and continuously clean the creek water as it passes through the site. The Booker Creek Park and Stormwater Gardens will educate residents and visitors on its importance to St. Petersburg’s history.

“We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on Booker Creek,” said Brian Caper, economic development director. “It’s an important part of the development. It’s also important to note that the city will retain ownership of Booker Creek.”

He said the city would still use the urban waterway as a stormwater conveyance. However, the Rays/Hines must maintain “soft, natural edges” and surrounding greenspace.

Caper said the developers would also “implement a design that improves water quality and better regulates flow.” A span of the creek – including a spot less than a quarter mile north of the Trop – swells after heavy rains, forms miniature rapids and resembles a tropical oasis.

Driscoll asked Brejesh Prayman, engineering and capital improvements director, if he thought restoring Brooker Creek to its former glory was possible. While he noted plans will evolve throughout construction, Prayman said he is “definitely confident in the opportunity.”

A tropical stretch of Booker Creek is less than a quarter mile north of the development. Photo by Mark Parker.

Harrison said the developers would minimize fertilizing, implement isolation zones and create buffers to mitigate chemicals and harmful nutrients from reaching the creek. A new sewage lift station will also help protect the expanded stream.

The Rays/Hines must develop at least 10 acres of open space, with a 14-acre goal. The development agreement mandates that those areas “must be integrated respectfully and sustainably into the property and Booker Creek.”

That stipulation also comes with a 99-year restrictive land-use covenant. Caper noted the development team is responsible for all “environmental remediation” throughout the site.

Colas believes the developers will meet the 14-acre goal. He added that additional greenspace “only makes the project better.”

“The attention that’s being paid to this, it’s truly – aside from our beloved Tampa Bay Rays – this (Booker Creek) is the centerpiece of the project,” Driscoll said. “And I am absolutely thrilled about the way it looks.”

 

 

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sandhillsrider

    May 13, 2024at4:08 pm

    Correction. Got my east/west confused. The Grove of oaks and Booker Creek was 5th Ave north west of 16th street between 17th an 18th st.

  2. Avatar

    Sandhillsrider

    May 13, 2024at3:51 pm

    In the name of progress one of the most beautiful grove of Live Oaks set next to Booker Creek when tropical plants were growing on its banks at 5th Ave north between 13th and 14th streets. When the interstate came through it all disappeared. Can we learn that progress doesn’t have to mean destroying everything in its path?

  3. Avatar

    Drew

    May 13, 2024at3:40 pm

    What is the true value of the land that was stolen from the residents of the Gas Plant District in ’86?
    The value being proposed to sell to the Rays is a pittance of it’s true value.

    City council lied and stole the land from African Americans in ’86 and they are getting ready to give that same land away to private investors in a horrible deal. Seems like the City just can’t help itself from screwing over working class people.

    The crumbs being offered to the African American community in this project are laughable. What if they had their stolen land today? They would have hundreds of millions of dollars in equity, not vague promises of “affordable housing” and a weak little pay-off to the Woodson Museum.

    Shameful.

  4. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    May 13, 2024at1:23 pm

    Booker Creek is not being done because of the Rays. The city is paying for it like just about everything else. And it’s a shame that the Rays are only producing only a total of 10 acres of green space, well short of the almost 25 acres that Midtown project was doing under the Kriseman administration.

    It’s time to tell the Mayor that he has negotiated a terrible deal. Enough of trying to make this look like a new suite. For the city to spend over a billion dollars with dismal returns and no certainty in return is an affront to St Pete’s residents and their children. City Council needs to think about its legacy.

  5. Avatar

    Friday WT

    May 13, 2024at4:22 am

    Amos my friend, we would love to see many things unruined by “progress” but but clocks only run clockwise. We lived in child’s park for 20 years our first house. Loved it there.lost it after 6yearfight with mortgage servicing llc. Moved north 60 miles and “progress” has taken root here in east Pasco county as well. Half a mile up the road there is rolling green hills and lake far as you can see. Protected zoning as rural property. Owned by one llc. They just changed that and approved 4500 homes to be put in out there. You can’t go back. You can teach your kids and grandkids to learn from our mistakes. Young people need to wake up. Start paying attention to what is being taken from them now and years on.

  6. Avatar

    Mike C

    May 12, 2024at9:08 pm

    Folks, you can never go back… .time moves forward and whats history is history. The good and the bad.
    But, city leadership continues to want to spend and spend and spend, Tax payer dollars. Stop with the pipe dream. For the community that once was, history can never be brought back by dredging and digging a creek…. and for every tax payer, leadership continues to want to spend more more of your tax dollars instead of imposing requirements on the developer to flip the bill for this stuff. Other cities impose requirements and financial obligations on the developer, not the community, why doesnt leadership have the courage in St. Pete?

  7. Avatar

    monah

    May 12, 2024at6:03 pm

    You must have meant to say it emerges from the EAST side of 275 near Burlington Ave N (more like 3rd Ave N, but wth).

  8. Avatar

    Steven Noeltner

    May 12, 2024at5:01 pm

    Looking forward to the next article that explains where all the money, grants, tax breaks and tax credits are coming from. I believe many will be “SHOCKED” to see who will be benefiting from our tax dollars and by how much.
    For total “Sunshine”, please compile the financial facts and print them.

  9. Avatar

    Amos Lee Wiggins

    May 12, 2024at4:55 pm

    The old neighborhood can’t be rebuilt the houses were old, I know, I grew up on both sides of 5th Ave south, I used catch minnows and tadpoles there, and skip rocks at Booker Creek, and even swam in it, it would be nice to see Booker back to it’s original beauty, many of us old timers from the old neighborhood would love that

  10. Avatar

    Jay king

    May 12, 2024at1:25 pm

    Has nothing to do with bitterness the first person is totally right 1,000% the poor is being weaved out obviously you are not poor or you don’t fit the criteria of being underprivileged from the statements that you’re making. This is total robbery what’s going on in the city right now

  11. Avatar

    Odessa Jackson

    May 12, 2024at8:24 am

    People with money have a vote and power.. people with no money have no vote or power..St. Pete. has become a playground for the rich and famous.. weeding out the poor..

  12. Avatar

    JD

    May 12, 2024at8:17 am

    What’s wrong with investing in the Black Community that’s already there.. We’re fine without all that .. You screwed up downtown with all those high rises, and the same thing is going to happen to the so called Gas Plant District for affordable housing ..The neighborhood is fine without all the traffic, dogs, and the yuppies and buppies riding their E-Bikes. No thanks Ken

  13. Avatar

    Steve D

    May 12, 2024at7:37 am

    A truly fantastic opportunity. Please don’t let the bitter, self-absorbed curmudgeons, many of whom will not be around when the rest of us are still kickin’, kill this project.

  14. Avatar

    Natalie G Stockard

    May 11, 2024at8:38 pm

    replace the artwork with shaded picnic tables like the ones on spa beach

  15. Avatar

    Big FUGEE

    May 11, 2024at5:01 pm

    Why not just build back the black community that was there..the creek doesn’t need to be and show for people..stop destroying everything for the sake of rich peoples pleasure..St.petersburg old city was fine before..I mean it did need a little sniffing up but know the gentrification is killing the vibe

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