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Is Atlanta’s BeltLine a model for local success?

Mark Parker

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The Atlanta BeltLine has connected neighborhoods and fostered $10 billion in economic development. Many local stakeholders believe the Pinellas Trail can provide similar benefits. Photo: Discover Atlanta.

Transforming 33 miles of disused rail lines into multi-use urban trails has generated $10 billion in economic development along Atlanta’s BeltLine, among myriad other municipal benefits.

St. Petersburg developers and downtown stakeholders now wonder if they can apply the expansive project’s most successful aspects to an underutilized local asset – the Pinellas Trail.

The St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership hosted leadership from ASD|SKY, a multi-disciplinary design firm, at its Oct. 24 Developer’s Council Meeting. While based in Atlanta, the company has operated a Tampa office since 1982.

Dozens of development stakeholders, business leaders and city administrators heard how they could recreate some of the BeltLine’s success in St. Petersburg. James Hypes, a Tampa-based principal at ASD|Sky, said the Pinellas Trail could provide similar impacts after the presentation.

“Absolutely, when you start talking about the Gas Plant (District’s redevelopment) as sort of the anchor for this end of the trail,” Hypes said. “When you talk about the Warehouse Arts District and the Pinellas Trail, the warehouses all have their back to the trail. There’s literally no addressing that, and I think there are plenty of opportunities on both sides.”

The BeltLine began as a college student’s master’s thesis in 1999. The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership launched in 2005 to oversee what tourism officials call the city’s “most iconic feature.”

Its 33 miles of walking and biking paths now loop through the sprawling city’s four quadrants. ADS|SKY has helped guide several of the BeltLine’s most prominent adaptive reuse projects.

What was once dilapidated old factories and weeds has propelled Atlanta’s growth. The BeltLine has fostered 50,000 permanent jobs, 5,600 affordable workforce housing units, 1,300 acres of new greenspace, 1,100 acres of environmental remediation and 46 miles of improved streetscapes.

ASD|SKY, an Atlanta-based multi-disciplinary design firm with a local office, has led several of the BeltLine’s most prominent adaptive reuse projects. Photo: Discover Atlanta.

Charlie Guy, president of the nonprofit Sunshine Greenway Corp., is a longtime vocal advocate of creating a 13-mile multimodal loop around St. Petersburg. He envisions it connecting to the Pinellas Trail and other bikeways and paths and providing a sustainable transportation option.

Guy and other community stakeholders believe increased bike traffic between downtown and the 22nd Street South (The Deuces) corridor would help revitalize and connect an historically excluded community. Hypes said local developers and business owners can make small strides through partnerships.

However, he stressed that city officials must “step in and create a framework.” Hypes believes they have “both an obligation and an opportunity” to establish a vision and guidelines.

“All it takes is one or two small projects that start to snowball,” he said. “Neighborhoods and landowners all along that stretch will … begin to understand the bigger picture. Right now, I think what you’re dealing with is every developer has to go in and try to fight for their piece. And for the city, that has to be exhausting.”

A map of the Pinellas Trail Loop (left) and another highlighting the Sunshine Greenway’s proposal. Screengrab.

Joe Furst, founder of Miami-based Place Projects, is one of those developers. He owns seven acres of underutilized land adjacent to the Warehouse Arts District and the Deuces corridor.

Furst attended Tuesday’s meeting and has long advocated for an industrial mixed-use rezoning initiative dubbed I-Mix. Hypes noted that Duncan McClellan, owner of the Duncan McClellan Gallery, and several other Arts District stakeholders have also advocated for adaptive reuse projects along the neighboring Pinellas Trail.

John Barkett, owner of Barkett Realty, has spearheaded the Trails Crossing project that will transform blighted areas underneath I-275 into vibrant park and event spaces and reconnect bifurcated neighborhoods. When he unveiled the plans, Barkett said the first phase would include safe passages into the Pinellas Trail, making it a focal point and asset “that it should be right now.”

Jessica Toal, an Atlanta-based principal for ASD|SKY, stressed the importance of local stakeholders creating something “authentic” and “right” for St. Petersburg. She also noted that developers built expansive grocery stores, parking lots and gas stations along the BeltLine until city officials created a zoning overlay.

A rendering of a dog park underneath I-275 in St. Petersburg, part of the expansive Trails Crossing project that borders the Pinellas Trail. Image: Apogee Real Estate Partners.

Toal said most existing structures along the BeltLine faced the opposite direction, like those lining the Pinellas Trail. Many areas lacked access points, and pedestrians and bicyclists often had to trudge through mud to reach surrounding developments.

Creating entryways between existing and new buildings is a focal point and creates space for smaller retailers, Toal added. She also explained that ASD|SKY typically places parking areas on opposite ends of a development.

Like Guy’s proposal, Toal said several various trails connect to the BeltLine. “It’s not meant to be this singular entity that lives on its own,” she added.

“It’s meant to have connective tissue and really bring the city and the region together,” Toal said. “This is really about creating a place and utilizing what is existing and using it as a catalyst for future development.”

Jason Mathis, CEO of the Downtown Partnership, said a group of local stakeholders would soon travel to Atlanta and tour the BeltLine.

 

 

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Charlie Guy

    November 1, 2023at9:15 am

    Our Sunshine Greenway found its 1st “snowball” April 23, 2021, when John Barkett invited Veatrice Farrell, then Executive Director, THE Deuces Live, then candidate Ken Welch, and myself to preview their Trails Edge project to be build adjacent to the Pinellas Trail. Questioned why his group was the 1st to have developed such a strategy, he remarked that he & key staff members had visited Atlanta to determine 1st hand the validly of such a location strategy!!

    With support from Jason Mathis, CEO of the Downtown Partnership, Joe Hamilton, Catalyst Publisher, asked our Southside St. Petersburg grassroot convergence of local & national non-profit organizations to submit 5 key questions for developing a Conversation on Multi Modal Transportation (BikesNBuses) for his very successful My Mayor Series Episode 13 9/20/22 broadcasted on its digital Civic Media Platform to some 18,000-20,000 viewers.

    An avid cyclist, Mayor Welch’s responses provided us very clearly the “why” & “how” we would then need to proceed to achieve our vision.

    Invited by Doyle Walsh, Chief of Staff, Mayor’s Office, & key City transportation managers, we are now partaking in ongoing meetings seeking the Mayor’s active support in the launching of our volunteer regional planning & support Pinellas Trail Loop Coalition Plan. We seek NOT funding, but rather the recognition & support of our Sunshine Greenway to centralize Southern Pinellas Peninsular bicycle trail assets to attract new local, regional, & national tourism to greatly advance the rebuilding of THE Deuces Live corridor neighborhood community with its Deuces Bikeway!!

  2. Avatar

    Laura

    October 26, 2023at3:47 pm

    The trail actually passes by many parks with restroom and recreation access as well as water fountains.

  3. Avatar

    tont

    October 26, 2023at9:48 am

    i really thought the car free st pete folks had a great plan for a loop within downtown that would put St Pete way ahead of other cities in the Live Work Play movement

  4. Avatar

    Patrick F

    October 26, 2023at7:10 am

    I agree that trail improvements may promote a healthier activity center, more so than the Tropicana Field redevelopment, with an investment of less than 1/100th of the top budget. I’d recommend bathrooms are payable by coin or ParkMobile to maintain cleanliness and deter vagrant settlement. Playgrounds and private investment in (t)rail-side retail may unleash the true potential of the P-Trail. From a value and topographic consideration, I do not believe NYC Highline is a conducive model for the Pinellas Trail to draw inspiration from.

    As a local, I would love to see some mountain bike loam rollers and berm turns that are approachable for all skill levels and welcome various cycling styles. Believe it or not, you do not need mountains to mountain bike. West Central Florida’s closest mountain bike parks are one hour away (Alafia River State Park and Baum Boyette). The transformative culture of the MTB community is very apparent when studying bike towns like Bentonville, Arkansas. The Mountain Biker culture would pair exceptionally well with the Vertical Ventures crowd. I would strongly advise Mill Creek Residential to seek REI, Bill Jackson, or active lifestyle tenancy for their ground-floor retail adjacent to Vertical Ventures.

    The Pinellas trail may ultimately be a sleeping powerhouse of untapped potential, but we must be wise in allocating land area to the highest and best use. A dog park is an excellent addition; however, dogs do not mix well with bikes, and the dog park should not overtake most of the land area, given there is already a giant park under the highway at the 5th Ave N and 20th St N, I275 entrance ramp.

    Please reply to this post to further community input and build a greater tomorrow.

    Case Studies:
    – Atlanta, Georgia (https://stpetecatalyst.com/is-atlantas-beltline-a-model-for-local-success/)
    – Bentonville, Arkansas (https://www.visitbentonville.com/sp/bike/)
    – Denver, Colorado(https://www.denver.org/things-to-do/sports-recreation/city-parks/)

  5. Avatar

    Tatguy

    October 25, 2023at5:01 pm

    Yes, long overdue. Would also be nice to have some restrooms and water stations along the trail. Only came across one restroom, between downtown St Pete and Largo, without having to venture away from the trail.

  6. Avatar

    John

    October 25, 2023at3:33 pm

    Long Overdue. For anyone that’s been to Atlanta, this seems like such a no-brainer for St. Pete. I think the Pinellas Trail can be more transformative to St Pete than the new Trop project.

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