City council members representing both sides of 49th Street South are leading the push to create a business district encompassing a commercial corridor vital to the cities it intersects.
St. Petersburg City Councilmember John Muhammad and Gulfport City Councilmember Ian O’Hara hope to increase connectivity and support growth and innovation along the thoroughfare. Business owners and community stakeholders recently decided incorporating a Business District would best help achieve those goals.
The two city officials will host a Strategic Visioning Session Aug. 28 to further establish a strategy. Muhammad is encouraging area business owners to participate in the long-awaited process.
“We are the ones that we’ve been waiting on, and the opportunities are in front of us now,” Muhammad said. “This is the time to get involved so that you can really have your voice included in the chorus of voices who are looking to determine and decide what happens.”
He noted that St. Petersburg’s Neighborhood Services Department would lead a presentation as stakeholders discuss the next steps. Muhammad said about 30 area business owners have attended previous meetings or expressed a desire to participate.
O’Hara noted that the initiative would also create a neighborhood district. The 49th Street corridor borders Childs Park and serves as a commercial hub for the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) and the City of Gulfport to its west.
He said stakeholders have discussed implementing an official district for decades, and the two city administrations are now “on the same page.” The goal is to establish a common thread between area businesses, neighborhoods and the adjacent municipalities.
“The improvement of 49th Street just has to happen – and it’s going to,” O’Hara said. “There are far more new businesses on 49th Street, both on the St. Pete and Gulfport side, and they’re looking for representation.”
He called the corridor Gulfport’s “moneymaker.” O’Hara noted it combines commercial and industrial businesses and could desperately use a makeover.
He said beautification would attract new business and reinvestment. In addition, O’Hara would like to implement traffic-calming measures along the thoroughfare and increase walkability.
“When you’re going 55 mph on a main street, you’re passing by places that you would not necessarily know were there,” he said. “There’s a wonderful tea shop, there’s a boutique – but no one is stopping because the flow of traffic is fast.”
As an area resident, Muhammad echoed those comments and said connectivity increases the quality of life. He also believes the area can achieve the same success found in St. Petersburg’s Edge and Grand Central Districts.
However, he said area stakeholders will ultimately determine the vision. Attendees democratically decided to create the district at the Aug. 1 meeting, and Muhammad said they would continue voting on plans.
The organization would serve as an “anchor point” for transforming 49th Street. Like O’Hara, Muhammad noted that both cities have money allocated to improve commercial corridors.
He believes recent “small wins” will help garner further success. “Once people see you’re winning, they want to know how they can be a part of it, what they can do,” Muhammad added.
“We can do some amazing things on 49th Street if we’re intentional about it, and we start now.”
He awaits a discussion with Mayor Ken Welch this month, and Muhammad has already engaged the city’s economic development and neighborhood services teams. He also recently spoke with Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
Muhammad contacted Commissioner Renee Flowers to discern if the county could provide resources. He said stakeholders have already volunteered to serve as district leaders.
O’Hara also stressed the importance of creating the district now, while both administrations support the initiative. He said smaller groups work behind the scenes weekly between the community meetings.
Establishing a district name is an immediate goal, and O’Hara expects the process to move quickly in the coming months. “We need to hit the ground running,” he said.
Once a plan is in place for the 49th Street Business District, Muhammad said he would focus on improving the 16th Street, 34th Street and 18th Avenue South corridors. His colleagues appointed him to the council, and Muhammad said he is trying to accomplish as much as possible ahead of the August 2024 primary election.
For now, he encourages 49th Street stakeholders to participate in the conceptual phase rather than “getting to the party late and then taking issue with what the plans are and what’s been developed.”
“So, get off the sideline and into the game,” Muhammad added. “And let’s work together to make something happen.”