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Downtown St. Petersburg’s southern waterfront could receive a major makeover

Renderings of the proposed Mahaffey/Dali redevelopment
Courtesy: ARC3 Architecture
A rendering of a proposed Center of the Arts in St. Petersburg for the Mahaffey Theater and Salvador Dali Museum.

The Center of the Arts area could see considerable changes under a plan that would improve access and usability of the Mahaffey Theater and Salvador Dali Museum.

St. Petersburg's southern waterfront could receive a major makeover under a plan proposed Thursday to revitalize an area near the Mahaffey Theater and Salvador Dali Museum.

The area is considered the Center for the Arts in St. Petersburg, and includes First Avenue South to Dali Boulevard. It is home to not only the Mahaffey Theater and Salvador Dali Museum, but also surrounding entities such as Al Lang Stadium, the Saturday Morning Market, and the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

During the city's Public Service and Infrastructure Committee meeting on Thursday, Chris Ballestra — managing director of the city’s development administration — said the area is in need of an update.

"From Al Lang (stadium) south to what's now Dali, we haven't put a lot of effort into what is one of the biggest economic engines in the city," Ballestra said.

Ballestra said he hopes the city and community can work with stakeholders to create a plan that considers everyone’s needs.

"We have a downtown waterfront master plan, we have a port master plan, we have an Albert Whitted Airport master plan," Ballestra said. "This performing arts district is a valued asset, and just at this juncture right now — in terms of paid visitors — there's over a million a year who pay to go to some part of this asset during the year, not including the people just riding their bike and enjoying the asset.

"I think it warrants addressing a more detailed planning study, and ultimately, some adjustments."

Ballestra also presented renderings of proposed redevelopment ideas. Although the renderings are not final and more work is needed before any plans can move forward, the city has explored different redevelopment ideas with a St. Petersburg based architecture company, ARC3 Architecture.

The renderings propose different redevelopment ideas that would focus on providing better access for vehicles and more dynamic use of the area.

For example, in one rendering, the current parking lot that hides the waterfront and museum from First Street South would be relocated, and an open green space would be built in its place.

Other proposed ideas reflected in the renderings and mentioned in the meeting include a focus on access for vehicles, like a covered drop-off area, valet parking, and expanding the relocated parking garage. Opportunities regarding retail, the Florida Orchestra, and the grand prix were also mentioned.

This is not the first time city officials have proposed redevelopment of the area.

In February, during the search to find a new home for the Tampa Bay Rays Stadium, Mayor Ken Welch commissioned a study to look at the future of the City’s Albert Whitted Airport.

The airport is located just south of the Center for the Arts, on prime waterfront property, and Welch said he would potentially like to extend the city’s green space through the airport property.

Ballestra said the proposal would allow for potential expansion of the Mahaffey Theater and Dali museum.

"This is the beginning. But at some point, we want to see, is this viable to really make a push, and try to push this forward," Ballestra said

"Timing is an issue They really desperately have expansion ideas that they want to bring forward. But we want try to collectively and collaboratively look at the whole site.

Ballestra said a more detailed financial analysis would need to performed — including determining how it would be funded — and he hopes to present a plan to Welch, the city council, and the community by fall.

At Thursday's meeting, surrounding areas like Al Lang Stadium and the airport were not included in the proposed ideas when the transformation of the Center for the Arts was considered.

City Councilman Copley Gerdes advocated for Al Lang Stadium. He said Al Lang often gets forgotten by the city and should be involved in future discussion of the redevelopment of the Center of the Arts area.

"In order to activate the entire area, we have to make sure we are including Al Lang (stadium)," Gerdes said.

In a statement, City Councilwoman Gina Driscol, also included the importance of surrounding areas to the redevelopment of the Center for the Arts.

“People from across our region and around the globe flock to the Center for the Arts to visit the Dali Museum, take in a show at the Mahaffey Theater, or cheer on their favorite driver at the Firestone Grand Prix,” Driscoll said.

Although this is just the beginning of the discussion of the redevelopment of the Center of the Arts in St. Petersburg, city officials are motivated to continue the planning process.

According to a presentation outlining Thursday's meeting agenda, the next steps of the process include conducting more detailed site planning, financial and eco-impact analyses, along with exploring partnership opportunities.

The committee concluded at the meeting that no council action is required at this time. However, many council members see the potential of the redevelopment.

“By developing a clear plan for the future of the Center for the Arts, we will ensure that this jewel on our waterfront shines brighter than ever,” Driscoll said.

I am the WUSF Rush Family Social Media Intern for spring 2022.