St pete living

When I moved to Florida from New York 22 years ago, I wanted to live in downtown St. Petersburg. Actually, I wanted to live in Tampa, but my then-husband nixed it. So, back to St. Petersburg. Even downtown was a stretch, but the park along the waterfront was so lovely, I couldn't understand why hardly anyone lived there. We should buy an old building and convert it to lofts, I said. He looked at me like I was nuts.

I probably would have been then, but today I'd be sitting pretty. The return to downtown living, a national trend for a decade or so, is something even sleepy St. Petersburg caught on to.

While we're still waiting for places to live in downtown Tampa, there are all kinds of places to live in downtown St. Petersburg. On Beach Drive, two luxury condo towers, the 21-story Florencia and the 14-story Cloisters, have waterfront views. Plans are in place for a third condo tower on Beach Drive, and the developer may build another after that. The waterfront will still be open to the public, with spacious green parks between the water and Beach Drive. While Tampa is now trying to return its waterfront land to the public, St. Pete never gave it away.

Near BayWalk, the shopping and entertainment complex, away from the water, something called Bayway Lofts just turned up. Its plans call for a 42-story condo tower, the tallest building in town, a more affordable alternative to city living.

They're even building where there is no land. McNulty Lofts will build five stories on top of an existing seven-story parking garage.

Smaller projects, a few with edgy urban design, are scattered around downtown. And toward the USF St. Petersburg campus, there are rental apartments at the Madison St. Pete, which is similar to the Madison SoHo in Tampa.

It's not all new construction. Old buildings that have outlived their original uses are being converted to residential - something downtown Tampa badly needs to do. The red brick Pennsylvania Hotel, the Mediterranean YMCA, the Detroit Hotel and the Snell Arcade - an office building that resembles a small castle - have been or are being resurrected as condos.

The city has even won that badge of a residential downtown, a Publix and an Eckerd. The concrete block walls are already going up.

There are a lot of things to do in downtown St. Petersburg, and I don't mean just BayWalk, the Centro Ybor of St. Pete, and the Pier. There's edgy music at the State Theater and Jannus Landing, American Stage's American Stage in the Park, concerts and festivals at the waterfront parks, tons of art galleries, the Arts Center, the Salvador Dali Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts. The Florida Holocaust Museum is in a converted bank building. The Palladium Theater is a stunning retrofitting of a church into a concert hall. There are coffee bars, a wine bar. The restaurants stay open at night.

All this does not mean I prefer St. Petersburg. I prefer Tampa; that's why I live here. But it will take years and years for us to catch up to St. Petersburg in terms of residential possibilities and the kinds of things that support a 24/7 downtown.

The wait could be worth it.

Tampa is a much more significant commercial center, which is part of why it has been difficult to jump-start a residential movement. Our downtown has tall buildings, more than a few, so it looks like a big city. The 9-to-5 crowds make it feel like one. It is surrounded by nifty inner city neighborhoods like Tampa Heights and the Channel District. Downtown Tampa has the potential to be a much more interesting place to live, if urban is what you want.

In the meantime, go take a look at St. Petersburg's downtown. In Tampa's last city administration, folks went over there on a chartered bus. The bus is really not necessary.

Just go over the Gandy and take Fourth Street until you hit it.

ST. PETERSBURG:

BayWalk Complex Heats Up: The $40-million "BayWalk" entertainment complex has become a hot spot for shopping and nightlife. Adding momentum to a revitalization of downtown St. Petersburg, "BayWalk" opened in the fall of 2000. The 150,000 sq. ft. open-air themed plaza is anchored by a 4,200 seat, 20-screen Muvico Theater complex featuring stadium seating theaters, child care service and fresh cuisine. 727-384-6000

BayWalk Bars & Restaurants: The Mediterranean Revival-themed complex known as the "Soul of St. Petersburg" includes bars and restaurants that pack in the crowds every night of the week. BayWalk features Wet Willie’s, an open-air daiquiri bar specializing in frozen drinks and a hot dance floor, and The Martini Bar, a sophisticated club with a variety of martinis and other drinks as well as live music. The complex features an assortment of unique and fashionable restaurants such as dish, Dan Marino’s Town Tavern, Adobo Grill and Gratzzi’s. 727-384-6000

BayWalk Shopping: The complex offers an eclectic array of shops for all ages and tastes. From the region’s only full-line Ann Taylor shop to the tropical lifestyle wear of Hurricane Pass Outfitters and Five Fish, to White House/Black Market which features women’s clothing in shades of white and black, variety abounds throughout the complex. 727-384-6000

Get Down-town: St. Petersburg celebrates the weekend on the First Friday of every month with a
Big Block Party Blowout! The city closes off Central Avenue for three blocks in the heart of downtown for this free festival. The Get Downtown series features live music 5:30 – 10:30 p.m. and includes food vendors and other entertainment. 727-393-3597 www.firstfridayinfo.com

Spend the Night with Dali: The "Dalí & Beyond" Thursday-night film series at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg features movies that share a Dalínian enthusiasm for fantasy, dreams, creativity and the imagination. Past films have included Dalí’s own ventures into cinema as well as surrealist and art films, documentaries, and experimental Hollywood productions. Films are shown in the evening on the first and third Thursdays of the month. 727-823-3767 www.salvadordalimuseum.org

Step Into the Ring: The Ringside CafÈ north of downtown St. Petersburg features live Blues almost every night of the week. This two-story, wooden-frame house used to be home to a boxing club, but now it heats up with great music. 727-894-8465 www.ringsidecafe.com

Garden Party: The Garden is an outdoor lounge under the arms of an ancient banyan tree in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg. It offers live jazz every weekend featuring the Buster Cooper Quartet. Cooper has played with such jazz legends as Duke Ellington and Josephine Baker. 727-896-3800

I’ll be in the Lobby: The Lobby Bar is a chic martini bar located in the lobby of one of downtown St. Petersburg’s first hotels. The Lobby is hard to find because the hotel isn’t open anymore. But it is worth the trip. Open only Thursday through Saturday, the small hot spot features great drinks, stained glass tables and an entertaining crowd. 727-896-3800

Cha Cha Cha: Located five floors above downtown St. Petersburg and nearly a mile out into Tampa Bay, Cha Cha Coconuts is one of the coolest spots in town. This restaurant/bar features entertainment nightly and there is never a cover charge. 727-898-5800

Standing at the Landing: Jannus Landing is a cozy courtyard in downtown St. Petersburg that is a favorite venue for live performances. Crowds at the enclosed but open-air venue cannot exceed 1,500. Jannus Landing has hosted artists such as Iggy Pop, Leon Redbone and Joan Baez. 727-896-1244

 

ON THE BEACH:

Catch the Wave: Shephard’s Tiki Bar in Clearwater Beach has gained notoriety for its live Reggae & Rock music, bikini contests, and large crowds of fun-loving people. Shephard’s also features the "Wave," a two-story disco with DJs and live music. 727-441-6875 www.shepards.com

Hurricane Watch: The Hurricane in St. Pete Beach is a dancing and nightlife spot for visitors and residents alike. Each night after dark, hurricane forces transform Stormy’s on the second floor into a state-of-the-art nightclub. For those who want a quiet evening under the stars, the Hurricane Watch offers 360-degree unobstructed view of the Gulf of Mexico and Intercoastal Waterway as well as tropical specialty drinks. 727-360-9558 www.thehurricane.com

Go Gators: Gators CafÈ in Treasure Island is known as the "World’s Longest Waterfront Bar." Gators features a saloon overlooking Fish Famous John’s Pass as well as the downstairs main bar, Tiki deck and Gator tower. Live Entertainment is featured daily. 727-367-2942 www.gatorscafe.com

If you haven't already found it during your sightseeing and shopping excursions, the restored fishing community of John's Pass Village and Boardwalk, on Gulf Boulevard at John's Pass in Madeira Beach, has plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops to keep you occupied after the sun sets. Elsewhere, the nightlife scene at the beach revolves around rocking bars that pump out music until 2am. All of the places listed in this section are bars that have live music.

Pass-a-Grille has the popular, always-lively lounge at Hurricane, on Gulf Way at 9th Avenue, opposite the public beach.

Up on the northern tip of Treasure Island, Gators on the Pass (tel. 727/367-8951) claims to have the world's longest waterfront bar, with a huge deck overlooking the waters of John's Pass. The complex also includes a nonsmoking sports bar and a three-story tower with a top-level observation deck for panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico. There's live music, from acoustic and blues to rock, most nights.

If you're into laughs, Coconuts Comedy Club, at the Howard Johnson motel, Gulf Boulevard at 61st Avenue in St. Pete Beach (tel. 727/360-5653), has an ever-changing program of live stand-up funny men and women. Call for the schedule, performers, and prices.

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