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St. Pete ‘vibe’ at the heart of a debate over business growth downtown

Margie Manning

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A plan designed to promote independently owned businesses is back on track for consideration by the St. Petersburg City Council.

The Storefront Conservation Corridor Plan now is scheduled for an April 4 public hearing and council vote.

The plan sets standards for storefront sizes along Beach Drive and Central Avenue, from the waterfront to 31st Street, and puts limits on large storefronts that are most likely to be associated with chain businesses. It also reduces the parking space requirements for property developers or building owners who rent to independent businesses, and includes financial and other incentives to retain independent businesses.

Supporters say the plan will help maintain St. Petersburg’s character. Opponents are concerned about the potential impact of the plan on property values and rents.

It’s been a high priority for Mayor Rick Kriseman, who told council members meeting as a committee of the whole on Thursday that people want growth, but they also want to maintain the city’s character as it grows. He cited Dynasty Financial Partners, a financial services firm that is relocating its headquarters from Manhattan to downtown St. Pete.

“They’re coming here because they love the vibe. They like the character, the feel of the city. If we want companies like that to continue coming here, I believe this is something that we can’t delay. We need to take action,” Kriseman said.

Council members last week delayed a hearing scheduled in March on the plan, when an attorney representing Tricera Capital, a downtown property owner, asked for more time to study the proposal.

The plan is original and unique to St. Petersburg, so it’s difficult for property owners to understand how it might impact property values, said Council member Brandi Gabbard.

“We don’t have anything to look at and say, this is a city of a similar size that did this, and it increased property values. Because we don’t have that example to look at, it’s very hard for our property owners to want to feel a sense of urgency. It’s that big unknown of what is this going to do to my values,” Gabbard said.

There are a lot of people who don’t like the plan, said Council member Darden Rice.

Rice and other council members asked how information about the plan was shared with property owners. The city sent letters and emails, held open houses and in some cases met individually with owners, staffers said.

“We have worked extensively to touch every aspect of who’s involved in this corridor,” said Derek Kilborn, manager of urban planning and historic preservation.

He said just one property owner attended a Feb. 22 meeting, one day after the Tricera attorney asked for the delay and additional time to study the plan. Based on what that attorney said, Kilborn had expected to see more.

There are at least three property owners in the Grand Central District hoping for quick passage because parking waivers make their projects work, said Liz Abernathy, director of planning and development services.

Kriseman said his office has heard little opposition in the two years the proposal has been in development.

“Where we are today is very different from where we started because we have listened and gotten feedback and input and tried to take all that into consideration,” Kriseman said. “If our goal is to try to make everyone happy with everything we do we’re probably not going to do anything, because the only way you don’t upset somebody is if you don’t take any action at all. Our job is to do what we think is best for the community and right for the community … and to try to move the city forward in a way that maintains who we are.”

 

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