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Economy / Business

St. Petersburg Approves Plan To Preserve Sections Of Downtown

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Nicole Slaughter Graham
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WUSF Public Media
Storefronts along Central Avenue in St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg’s downtown city skyline is dotted with the booms and jibs of cranes stretching toward the sun. The sight is a telling sign of the city’s rapid growth—a topic that’s caused much contention among long-time residents and independent business owners.

The city recently passed the Storefront Conservation Corridor Plan, a measure to preserve the look and feel of Beach Dr. and Central Ave.

The plan, said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, was born out of a community conversation about development in the downtown area and its potential effects on local shops owners.

“They were ultimately going to get priced out of their spaces on Central (Avenue) and on Beach (Drive) and that their spaces would be replaced by chains,” he said.

The Storefront Conservation Corridor plan is an effort to preserve certain sections of downtown St. Petersburg: Beach Dr. through to Central Ave. and down Central Ave to 31st St.

Within the plan are two components: zoning rules and an incentive program for current businesses.

The zoning component protects how the two streets currently look. The way small storefronts are mixed in with medium and large businesses is the design that will stay. For example, a company cannot come in and buy three small, consecutive storefronts with the intention of turning it into one big shop.

“The hope is that it might make it easier for the businesses that are currently there to stay there, because they’re aren’t being displaced solely to create larger businesses to come in there,” Kriseman said.

The previous location of Daddy Kool Records
Credit Nicole Slaughter Graham / WUSF News
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WUSF News
The previous location of Daddy Kool Records. The store had been located on Central Ave since the 90s before it was relocated because of rising rent prices.

Manny Kool, manager of Daddy Kool Records, said, in theory, this aspect of the plan makes sense, but it doesn’t address one of the key concerns that independent business owners have.

“It’s something that placates everybody who is up in arms about all of the businesses like ours that are being forced out of there. It will not do anything to save the businesses like ours from being forced out because of high rent.”

Kool said his store, which had been located on Central Ave. since the 1990s, had to move to a new location because the rent tripled.

Kriseman acknowledged this particular concern, but said the city is limited on resources it can provide to business owners who cannot afford the rising rent costs in the area. The city, he stated, doesn’t have the funds to help all of the established businesses to offset the rising rent prices, but it can give them other opportunities.

“What we can do is provide some resources that might allow a business to do some improvement or enhancements to their business that would increase their revenue potentially, allowing them to offset any increases in rent charges that they were experiencing.”

Businesses can apply for grants of up to $20,000 through the city. Kriseman said property owners also have the option of applying for up to $10,000 to incentivize renting to local companies.

Sarah Aldrich, the marketing manager at the Morean Arts Center, said the Storefront Conservation Corridor Plan is a good idea and the right step in preserving the history of the city.

The Artistry. A new development on Central Ave.
Credit Nicole Slaughter Graham / WUSF News
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WUSF News
The Artistry, a mixed-use development of condos and shops, is currently under construction on Central Ave. Mayor Rick Kriseman said developments that have already started will not be affected by the plan

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “St. Pete is going to be going through immense changes and already has, and I hope they’re going to be able to hold onto some of the history that’s made the city so great in the first place.”

Aldrich hopes the communication about the details—how local businesses can apply for the grants and get involved in the process—remains transparent.

Kriseman stated that before the new plan was approved by the city, business owners, developers, and residents were invited to several town-hall style meetings and discussion sessions and that all information for the plan is available on the city's website.

Though some developers have reportedly stated the plan could stifle growth, Anthony Close, the creator of St. Pete Rising, a website that focuses on the growth of the city, said the plan overall is a good idea, as long as it is executed well.

“I think in the long run, the concept is good,” he said. “We need something like this to preserve our small businesses, and I think that any concerns the development community has can be addressed with different amendments to the plan or reevaluated down the road. I think it’s really important that we maintain that small-town community feel that makes Central Ave. so special and we need to take action now.”