While members of an evaluation committee repeatedly stressed how impressed they were with the three finalists’ proposals, only one will create a master plan for the much-anticipated Trails Crossing project.
Six city officials decided LandDesign’s qualifications and vision were best to transform blighted, underutilized areas underneath I-275 in St. Petersburg into park and event spaces that will connect bifurcated neighborhoods. They selected the Orlando-based company over Chen Moore and Associates and Kimley-Horn and Associates at Thursday’s evaluation meeting.
Brejesh Prayman, capital improvements director, credited LandDesign’s organizational structure and “well-rounded” presentation. He also noted that company leadership understood the importance of managing expectations for an ambitious project that still needs the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) approval.
Creating safer pedestrian crossings and linking six disjointed districts is a primary goal for stakeholders. Ken Smith, LandDesign’s principal landscape architect, called the project transformational for nearby residents.
“I think it has the ability to bring together a group of diverse neighborhoods with a sense of identity, which is very exciting,” Smith said after the meeting. “We really spent time looking at neighborhoods around the site – the (Pinellas) Trail, the (Booker) Creek and all that – to see how all that stuff can come together.”
John Barkett, co-founder and president of the nonprofit Friends of Trails Crossing, has spearheaded the public-private partnership that will drastically reimagine four city blocks from 1st Avenue North to 3rd Avenue South. FDOT owns and leases some of the land to the city for parking.
Barkett is also the managing partner of Apogee Real Estate Partners, which contracted Baker Barrios Architecture to create a conceptual plan. Once LandDesign completes the master plan, the public-private partnership between city officials and the Friends of Trails Crossing will take further steps toward designing, permitting and construction.
The project would include walking and bike paths and connect to the adjacent Pinellas Trail. There are also plans for a “green” amphitheater; art walls; a plaza built with repurposed shipping containers; pop-up markets; children’s areas; a beer garden and a dog park.
Carrie Read, deputy project manager for Land Design, expressed excitement to move the initiative forward. She also believes the evaluation committee appreciated their commitment to minimizing potential pedestrian and vehicular conflicts.
“We went out to the site and started brainstorming ideas on how to make this a really great, comfortable space,” Read said. “Improving safety and comfort, but also adding in some of those vibrant, active components.”
Evan Mory, director of parking and transportation for St. Petersburg, told council members at an October 2022 committee meeting that administrators planned to split the master plan’s cost with the Friends of Trails Crossing. Each would contribute $150,000.
The project follows a similar initiative to create a park under a portion of I-375, which opened in November 2022. However, the evaluation committee has repeatedly noted that Trails Crossing would also serve as an economic driver.
Brain Caper, the city’s economic and workforce development director, said Thursday that LandDesign officials turned a perceived weakness into a strength throughout the selection process. He explained that while the company will utilize a bevy of subcontractors for Trails Crossing, he realized “they work together really well” and that “they were all very much on the same page.”
The team is currently working on underpass projects in Alabama and Minnesota, and Caper believes they can apply best practices in St. Pete.
“And maybe put a unique spin on some of these things that we wouldn’t have if we didn’t have that outside, kind of angle toward all of this,” he added. “They really spent a lot of time on safety – that came through very strong and seemed to be one their most critical considerations. I think it’s one of ours, as well.”
LandDesign’s experience acquiring private funding for similar projects was a difference maker for Cheryl Stacks, city transportation manager. She noted that grant awards are increasingly competitive and securing outside resources is critical to the master plan’s success.
Evan Birk, transportation planning manager, said he favored LandDesign’s “engineering practicality.” Multiple evaluators also credited their awareness of how the interstate above Trails Crossing could change over time – and how that affects the permanent and semi-permanent structures underneath.
“I also appreciate them saying that the Pinellas Trail was almost invisible at that location,” Birk said. “And I agree. I think they … noted, the most, the importance of the Pinellas Trail and connecting to it, and how it needs to be a point of prominence within that corridor.”