St. Petersburg is a place where people want to get together over coffee, a sandwich or a beer.
The principals at one of the city’s top architectural firms say that will continue, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
“St. Pete has been on such a roll for places where people want to gather, whether it’s small bodegas and coffee shops or bigger things, like the Pier. The U.S. has gotten more and more engaged in social gathering places as a culture. In St. Pete, because it’s really come alive in the last decade or so, there’s been more emphasis on that here too,” said Tim Clemmons, principal and executive director, PLACE Architecture LLC. “The pandemic has tamped that quite a bit but the desire hasn’t gone away at all … I’m optimistic that there’s pent-up desire and demand and I think by this time next year there’s going to be even more of a desire for that.”
That trend is a perfect match for growth plans for PLACE Architecture. PLACE officially was founded in January 2018, but its principals — Clemmons, Greg Glenn and Jenny Miers — have deep roots in the local architectural industry and worked together at various firms for more than 20 years.
PLACE now has 11 employees, six of whom are registered architects, and currently has 19 active projects with a total construction value of $180 million. The office is divided into two studios, with Glenn and Miers as studio directors.
“Our bread and butter as a firm has always been multifamily but we’ve made a concerted effort in the last couple of years to get into more commercial work, including retail and hospitality, to be a bigger player in our hometown,” Glenn said.
PLACE designed Grand Central Brewhouse at 2324 Grand Central Ave. and Book + Bottle at 17 6th St. N. It is part of the team developing Orange Station at the Edge, a mixed-use project at the former St. Petersburg Police headquarters site. PLACE also is working on several other projects that remain under wraps right now.
“Making places where people enjoy coming together is a fun, gratifying part of our business and we would like to do more of that,” Clemmons said.
The majority of the company’s work has been multifamily housing, ranging from an 18-story luxury condo building on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa to several affordable housing projects. The portfolio also includes Elements on Third, an apartment development on 31st Street between 3rd and 5th Avenues North in St. Petersburg. In that project, two 1960s office buildings are being converted to lofts.
Additionally, PLACE is working on a “tiny apartments” development at 357 5th St. S. The five-story, 25-unit structure will be one of the first in the city to take advantage of new zoning laws that allow newly built apartments downtown that are 750 square feet or less to be exempt from providing parking for tenants.
Clemmons said there’s pent-up demand for such units from people who want to live downtown without having to rely on a car. Developers can save $50,000 or more per unit when they don’t have to build a parking garage. “Hopefully that translates into more affordable rents,” Glenn said.
There’s also growing interest in co-working office space in multifamily buildings, because the pandemic has had an impact on how people do their jobs.
“The big thing that everybody is curious about is how many people will continue to work at home a year from now or two or three years from now. The technology has shown that we can do it more than we thought,” Clemmons said. “The idea is that you’ve got a 200-unit apartment building and you might have 30 or 40 or 50 of those people working at home. What if we built in a co-work space to get you out of your apartment, because the apartments are small and weren’t designed to be home offices. I think that’s got some real legs and I think you are going to see that in some of these newer apartment complexes.”
Outdoor space likely will take on new importance in residential projects, Miers said.
“Some of the existing apartment buildings downtown and elsewhere have been struggling with their common spaces. In some cases they’ve had beautiful amenities that that they had to shut down, such as pools. Some of our affordable housing with seniors going to the club room to play bingo and they can’t do that. But the apartments that are not as urban have a little more outdoor space,” Miers said. “Being able to incorporate that more will definitely be an amenity and it will be interesting to see how the management and development teams try to work with us to come up with ideas for that too.”
Restaurants also are expected to incorporate more outdoor space, which Clemmons sees as part of a larger trend.
“Getting beyond just architecture, St. Pete has done some baby steps in this direction, but we’ve really not had a robust conversation in the community about expanding sidewalks and encouraging personal mobility with scooters and bike lanes,” Clemmons said. “St. Pete is flat and has a fairly benign climate. We can do a lot more outdoor activities.”
Good cities offer choices
There’s often a public outcry, frequently from long-term residents, when new developments are proposed. But the development community is simply stepping up to meet the demand, the PLACE principals said.
“I don’t see any concerns from developers that the city is getting overbuilt,” Glenn said. “Anytime there’s an empty lot in the downtown core or anywhere within 20 blocks of it, they’re interested in looking at it.”
Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties have been adding about 40,000 people annually for each of the past 60 years, Clemmons said. But not everyone wants to live in far suburbs, and St. Petersburg has stood out because it is more compact, with a traditional street grid, and more walkable.
“Nationwide polls show 20 percent to 30 percent of people want to live in a walkable mixed-use neighborhood. Not necessarily a high-rise building, but maybe two and three and four-story buildings, with shops on the corner, like what we’re seeing in the Grand Central District or the EDGE District,” Clemmons said. “In the Tampa Bay area, even if you said 10 percent want to live in a walkable, urban-character place, that’s 300,000 people. There’s only 20,000 people who live in downtown St. Pete and there’s maybe 10,000 people in downtown Tampa, so there’s a huge underserved market of people who would like to live in more compact places where they walk to the corner grocer, meet their friends at the coffee shop, and not have to drive 20 miles back and forth to work every day.”
It all comes down to choice, Clemmons said.
“A really good city should offer all kinds of choices to people,” he said. “What’s really nice about St. Pete is that in a relatively small area, it’s offering a lot of different choices for people.”
Post-Covid, Miers sees changing opportunities for commercial spaces.
Westfield Countryside in Clearwater faces foreclosure, raising questions about the fate of other local shopping malls, including Tyrone Square in St. Petersburg.
“Hopefully it’s not going to be a situation where it’s abandoned for redevelopment, but those are long-term trends that could have already been in the process of opening up development areas and this may force their hand a little bit more,” she said.
The biggest commercial opportunity locally is the Tropicana Field redevelopment. PLACE Architecture is part of the Midtown Development proposal.
“We’re talking about building a whole neighborhood at once. There will be some big buildings, but to me what’s really exciting is what we do with creating a neighborhood with the potential to be unlike anything else in St. Petersburg, largely because of Booker Creek,” Clemmons said. “We can do something with that creek that will create a really unique waterfront. In Florida we think of the waterfront as the beach or the Bay, the big open waters, and we’ve not done as much to take advantage of our smaller waters that lace through the city that create more intimate opportunities to get together with people.”
That concept is key for Clemmons, Glenn and Miers.
“Individual buildings are great, but what’s stronger and better and more interesting is communities that create places for people to live their lives,” Clemmons said.