Tumbleweeds roll briskly across the old K-Mart parking lot on 34th Street South. At night, a lonely wind whistles through cracks in the abandoned, whitewashed storefront, calling attention, shoppers like a solitary owl to no one in particular.
Nevertheless, the 1.5 mile-long Skyway Marina District is showing signs of life. The subject of a massive revitalization push by the City in 2013, the 1.5 mile stretch of southern Pinellas County was studied for an exhaustive eight months. Mayor Rick Kriseman’s economic viability committee discovered, among other things, that district residents were spending $157,000 daily, in other parts of the city. Because there were hardly any restaurants, and a poor selection of retailers, in the area. And little in the way of millennial business.
A plan of action was devised: How to attract development to the Skyway Marina District? They started with branding – the creation of an attractive, blue-and-yellow logo. And then they put the word out that this economically viable corridor, with thousands of residents in nearby subdivisions and condominiums, was open for business.
Five years later, there are still a couple of shuttered storefronts, old mom and pop motels, a self-serve car wash, a pawn shop and an adult video store. There’s an old-school shopping center, with four or five late-generation tenants, that’s seen better days.
But Ceridian’s nine-story headquarters is in the Skyway Marina District. And there’s a vibrant St. Petersburg College building. A Wal-Mart, a state-of-the-art Publix and – in a month or two – a WaWa!
“We’ve had a lot of developers showing interest to do major projects,” says Gary Jones, a senior planner with the City. “I’ve personally talked to a lot of them.”
Despite the small increments in progress, Jones adds, “I had no idea that it would take this long. It’s been a major education project to highlight what most of us in St. Pete already know – it’s a great market that’s been under-served, in all facets. It’s been way too slow, but I think the dam’s going to break, and things are going happen.”
In February 2017, Tampa-based Phillips Development paid $4.2 million for a scrubby, nine-acre tract of land at between 30th and 32nd Avenue. There was going to be a Home Depot on the site, but those plans were quashed by the economic downturn of 2007, and the building went back on the market.
Phillips has plans for a mixed-use project, with 300 apartments (it’s to be called The Sur Club) and 13,000 square feet of retail space. Several parcels are being shopped around, in a search for potential restauranteurs.
In May, Phillips will submit construction drawings to the city’s permitting office, with construction on The Sur Club scheduled to start in late summer.
Already underway – at the far southeast corner of the property – is a 100,000-square-foot, five-story, climate-controlled storage facility.
There are currently four separate storage facilities along the Skyway Marina District, two of them a few storefronts apart in the former shopping center.
The City is awarding Phillips a $1 million incentive for bringing multi-family residences and retail to the district; this will be used for improvements to the immediate area, including installation of a traffic light at 30th Avenue, an overhauled streetscape and public parking area between The Sur and the SPC campus building, and the extension of St. Petersburg’s City Trail to the front door of the apartment complex.
According to Jones, once the permits are issued, construction of The Sur will take 12 to 18 months.
At the south end of the Skyway Marina District, the long-awaited arrival of a new restaurant – along with the area’s only liquor license – is expected in June.
The Getaway, a waterfront dining-and-drinking establishment, is under construction at Maximo Marina, which is itself in the middle of a $75 million renovation.
The original Getaway, on the Pinellas side of Gandy Bridge, has long been a favorite watering hole for residents of both St. Petersburg and Tampa.
“We weren’t actively looking to open another location, but would be interested if the right location presented itself,” says co-owner Dave Burton. “Then we learned that Maximo Marina, as part of its revitalization, was looking for the right food and beverage partner. We thought we’d be a perfect fit.”
The kitchen and main restaurant will be located in a 4,000-square-foot building that was once home to a boat sales office. Under construction are a massive indoor/outdoor patio, an outdoor tiki bar and tropical rainforest-type landscaping.
Like its forerunner, this Getaway will have a relaxed, casual atmosphere, with beach sand spread from the patio to the marina.
An existing concrete wall, enclosing the southern edge of the marina, will remain. “We’re trying to make sure we’re very good neighbors to the surrounding community,” Burton explains. “We’re going above and beyond to make sure that our sound is mitigated. We’re not a party place to begin with – that’s not really our scene or vibe. We’re more of a weekend-daytime place, anyway.”
Burton says he and business partner Scott Tashkin have only heard good things about the Skyway Marina District. The City’s plan worked. “That definitely played a role in our decision to come there, to be a part of something up-and-coming,” he adds.
District president Misty Bottorff believes developers are beginning to understand the potential of the area, which is less than a mile from some of the largest luxury condo complexes on the Pinellas Bayway.
She, too, is surprised it’s taken this long. “Everybody in the whole city of St. Pete was attempting to build, and expand all at once,” Botorff says. “So that slowed things down for the city; they got bombarded. So it took a little more time.
“I think it’s all going to show up, all at once, at this rate. And it’s going to change our district extensively.”