St pete history
1950s - 1970
Pinellas County developed very quickly after WW2, from a suburban standpoint. To this end, downtown business and importance declined sharply after 1960. Suburban centers like Tyrone, Pinellas Park, and Largo took business, retail, and residential focus off downtown for the first time. City government formed St. Petersburg Progress, Inc. (now the St Pete downtown partnership) in 1962 in order to attract business development downtown. Throughout the 1960s, as in many big cities then, large public works projects were undertaken to boost interest in the downtown core. The St. Petersburg Marina was constructed, a new $1 million art museum opened in 1965, Bayfront Center was constructed, a new library, and new civic buildings. All of these new projects did little to restore downtown as an urban center.
If there has been one contstant in St. Pete's city center over the years, it has been the demolition of historic anchor structures. The pier, a downtown tourist anchor, had deteriorated so much that it was demolished in 1967. Beaux-arts hotels like the Tropic and the Royal Palm from the 1920s, the Florida Theater, and old homes were all demolished through the 1960s to make way for structures like parking lots, or office blocks.
The skyline began to develop in earnest beginning in 1968. That year, the 16-story Lutheran apartments and the 15-story Presbyterian Towers were completed. High rise apartment construction became a standard in the downtown area. On the surface, this sounds like downtown would become a hot residential area, but the vast majority of people living in downtown St. Petersburg in 1970 were over the age of 65.
From 1966 to 1970, more construction dollars were spent in downtown St. Pete than the previous four decades. This statistic was loudly quoted in local papers through 1970 showing a signalled downtown renaissance. They never mentioned that inflation raised the dollar amount artificially, and that most of the construction dollars were spent by the city on large projects or by developers on retirement towers. In 1970, downtown St. Petersburg was populated mostly by retirees, and boasted a bland, concrete theme having paved over a lot of its history.
Downtown St. Petersburg continued to languish throughout the 70s and 80s. Each new project brought hope of a downtown revitalization. The new pier was completed in 1973, and the Bayfront Tower was completed in 1975. The new residential projects only brought more retirees to downtown. Retirees boost the population of the district, but they did not spend money or go out often, leaving a retail void. In 1973, the city created the "Central Avenue Mall", similar to something Tampa was doing with it's Franklin Street around the same time. The city painted the road green, and put giant planters along it. The planters created a confusing obstacle course for drivers, and the retail never came. The project failed, and the planters were moved to the Pier. In the late 70s, the city tried to attract retail to 16th St South, creating a pedetrian mall of sorts, but no one came. These projects, coupled with two new freeways leading into downtown, were supposed to revitalize the area, but only took people away to the suburbs.
In 1987, the largest of all downtown plans was approved - the city's $130 million partnership with the Bay Plaza development group. The 13-year contract called for a new parkway and tram, two new malls, and three new parking garages throughout downtown, linking it with the new Florida Suncoast Dome (now Tropicana Field) being built farther west near I-275. One mall was to be constructed near the pier, and the second mall was to be constructed near the new stadium. The "Plaza Parkway" was never constructed due to it's $4.3 million price tag, and the mall near the Suncoast Dome was never built, leaving the stadium high and dry far from downtown when completed in 1989.
When the last retailer downtown, Maas Brothers, left in 1991 downtown seemed to be forever tied to the elderly and quiet waterfront strolls. In September 1995, the Bay Plaza project was dead - the development company, citing financial troubles, quit. The city had built the parking garages and had torn down the historic Soreno Hotel,but there was no mall. In spite of the bad marriage with the Bay Plaza Co., downtown St. Petersburg began to grow. The Florida International Museum opened, new tenants moved into downtown office buildings, and the rapid suburban growth of the bay area slowed down as people began to look for more urban lifestyles. 25 new restaurants opened downtown between 1997 and 2000, along with over 1,000 new apartment residences.
A new hope for downtown was announced in 1998 when Baywalk was started by the Sembler Development Company. It would be a scaled down, more realistic version of the failed Bay Plaza plan. When Baywalk opened in 2000, it brought chain stores and movies to downtown for the first time in over 20 years, and has enjoyed great success. Downtown St. Petersburg, in the past few years, has become a regional destination for tourists and locals. Currently, it's enjoying great success in both the retail and residential markets, with no end in sight.
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