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St. Pete’s storefront program helps Kalamazoo Olive, other small companies

Margie Manning

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James Ryan, owner of Kalamazoo Olive (Photo credit: City of St. Petersburg)

The City of St. Petersburg has awarded $175,000 to 10 small businesses and one property owner under a plan designed to protect independent businesses downtown.

The awards from the Storefront Conservation Corridor Overlay Program, approved in April, have led to 11 new jobs and $246,355 in total investment, staff members told the City Council meeting as a committee of the whole Thursday.

“This is innovation in action,” said Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, while adding that the program will continue to be revised and improved.

The initiative, which city officials have said is unlike any other in the country, has two parts.

It makes land use and zoning changes on Beach Drive and Central Avenue from the waterfront to 31st Street, and put limits on large storefronts most often associated with chain businesses.

It also provides monetary incentives for small businesses and property owners who make physical improvements to their spaces.

The city council presentation included a list of the companies that have gotten incentive awards so far.

Source: City of St. Petersburg

City staff members said one of the success stories resulting from the program is Kalamazoo Olive, which has said it was forced out of its location in the 400 block of Central Avenue by rising rents. The store moved to 1010 Central Ave., and the $17,500 award it received to paint, install walls, improve the kitchen and upgrade the plumbing and electricity was critically needed, said Lowell Atkinson, an economic development specialist with the city.

The property owner, Parag Choksi, separately got a $10,000 award which was used to keep the rent down, said Jessica Eilerman, the city’s small business liaison and manager of The Greenhouse.

Several city council members raised questions about granting awards to property owners, which is allowed under the ordinance the council approved earlier this year. Council members also questioned the use of award money to purchase inventory such as art or alcohol.

The city staff is analyzing feedback and thinking of new ways to manage the program going forward, Atkinson said.

The zoning and land use changes, designed to preserve the character of each block by limiting the size of storefronts, have worked out as intended so far, according to a presentation by Derek Kilborn, the city’s director for urban planning and historic preservation.

He cited two projects the city has reviewed, for Misred and for SaltLight Art, both in the 600 block of Central Avenue. Each business combined two small storefronts into a medium-size storefront. Once the projects were completed, the overall percentage of small storefronts on the block remained well above the minimum requirement.

Applications for two other projects are in process — new construction at 2324 Central Ave., the site of the former Taco Bus that is poised to become a micro-brewery, and for new construction at 2641 Central Ave., the future site of The Royal, a retail and condo development.

The City also has researched how the Storefront Conservation Corridor Overlay Program would impact a handful of other projects, including the 45-story luxury condominium tower with a hotel, retail and office space that Red Apple Real Estate plans to build in the 400 block of Central Avenue.

“It’s been a pretty smooth process to date,” Kilborn said.

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