As natives and longtime residents, Green Bench Brewing’s ownership group discovered an ideal location for a beer garden several years ago.
Hidden between Central and 1st Avenue North lies a unique stretch of Booker Creek that resembles a natural, tropical waterway. While the land abutting its banks is private property, a public alley cuts between two small businesses and abruptly ends at a fenced viewing area.
The property owners – Booker Creek Ventures – now hope the city will give them control of the brick right-of-way at 1421 Central Avenue. That would allow Green Bench to lease an old warehouse and convert it into a hospitality and retail concept. A private courtyard across the property would become a beer garden.
Co-owner Nathan Stonecipher said he and his colleagues began exploring the idea nearly six years ago but “tried pretty hard to keep it under wraps” until moving further along a lengthy process.
“We always loved what we considered this oasis in downtown St. Petersburg that no one really knew about,” Stonecipher said. “It’s just a beautiful location that’s been underutilized, that we just thought we could get more people to appreciate and enjoy.”
Florida’s Division of Corporations lists Jacob Holehouse and Daniel Harvey as the registered agents for Booker Creek Ventures. Their attorney relayed that they were unavailable for comment.
The site includes three platted lots on either side of the 16 feet wide, over 100-foot-long public alley. To its left, or west side, are two warehouses.
Stoncipher said Green Bench would lease one and sell freshly brewed craft beer and merchandise. Brewery operations would continue at its facility on Baum Avenue, about a quarter mile away.
“It’s a little 2,500 square foot warehouse that’s only ever been used – at least for the last 20 years – for storage,” he said. “And we’re trying to make it something that’s more friendly to pedestrians, tourists and, of course, residents who live here.”
The courtyard behind a hemp shop facing Central, to the right of the alley, would become a beer garden with a view of the urban oasis.
He said state law prohibits customers from buying alcohol at a location and carrying it across a public right-of-way. That underscores the need for officials to vacate the alley, and the city council set a public hearing for June 15.
“We’re just trying to stay within the realm of the law and still allow the city to have their public access to the creek and hopefully, have everyone get what they want,” Stonecipher explained. “Which would be the most unique outdoor beer garden area in St. Petersburg, and still have the city allow public access along the creek side as well.”
While the council held a first reading of an ordinance to vacate the alley at its June 1 meeting without official or public comment, the Development Review Commission (DRC) discussed and approved the proposal 4-2 in March.
Much of that debate centered on the public losing access to a unique St. Petersburg water feature. Attorney Bryan Dion, representing the property owners, noted another alley off 1st Avenue North that runs alongside Booker Creek.
Stonecipher also suggested the city could use that drive for public access. However, as multiple commissioners and a zoning official explained during the meeting, that alley does not extend to the rest of the creek, and it currently consists of crumbling asphalt rather than brick pavers.
In addition, it is only accessible from a one-way street headed away from downtown. It does not connect to the exponentially more pedestrian-friendly Central Avenue.
One commissioner suggested that city officials could remove boulders blocking the 1st Avenue path and build a connection to provide public access. Stonecipher disagreed with some of the DRC’s concerns.
“Public access wouldn’t be changed at all,” he said. “Except for that little brick alley that runs down from Central Avenue to those rocks. However, that would probably be open to the public more than it is currently.
“I don’t know of anyone that goes down there and actually enjoys and utilizes the creek as is.”
Stonecipher said the brick path would remain, and the need for control is only to comply with Florida law and allow people to walk from the warehouse to the courtyard. Dion stressed that the plans would not affect the creek in any way.
If approved, Green Bench Brewing would lease the spaces from the property owners. While everything outside the alley is private property, Booker Creek Ventures and the city’s engineering department must still negotiate a 15-foot public easement along the banks for stormwater drainage.
Although the ownership group will ultimately decide what happens with the site, Stonecipher said the three small businesses fronting Central – a hemp and cheese shop and tattoo parlor – would remain.
“We’d love to be a complimentary partner, which is what we’ve tried to do on our Baum Avenue location,” he added.
Stonecipher relayed that his group approached the property owners years ago with the idea, but they were unsure of what they wanted to do with the warehouses along 15th Street. He said the stakeholders began the alley vacation process nearly 18 months ago.
Despite some remaining hurdles, Stonecipher expressed optimism that the area would soon feature a beer garden overlooking a unique swath of Booker Creek.
“The people who live in St. Petersburg love their city and want to make sure every development that happens or anything new respects and safeguards what we have here downtown,” he said. “And that’s obviously – at Green Bench – what we care the most about and what we’re trying to do with this project. I think when people understand the full scope … and what’s really being vacated here, hopefully, we’ll all be on the same page.”