Behind the News, Dispatches from the Sunshine State

City leaders destroy Central Avenue, now complain about it

600 central

Oh, how St. Petersburg’s city leaders love to ignore history.

I read with interest yesterday’s St. Petersburg Times article on the 600 block of Central Avenue. Basically, city leaders are scrambling over themselves about the sorry state this block is in.

A little memory refresher: This block is the one in downtown St. Pete that has all the vacancies and “No Loitering” spray-painted on the storefront glass. It’s become a haven for some downtown street people, graffiti taggers and hipsters in various states of inebriation after a visit to the Emerald.

So what’s our fair city to do? Well, they want to “revitalize” the block. But they don’t mention that back before 2006, this block was already thriving with unique local small businesses.

There were bohemian joints like the Surreal Bowl and eccentric boutique shops like Woodies Hat Box, all centered around one of the city’s historical treasures, Crislip Arcade.

That is, before another developer — Gerald R. Pacella of 601 Central Ave LLC — came in, bought that part of the block and evicted all the shops to construct a bunch of condos. Condos that never saw the light of day. Another developer, Thomas Gaffney of Oldsmar Land Holding Group, bought the property in 2008. His intentions are not yet known, but some Google sleuthing shows his company likes to hold on to property and then sell it to the highest bidder. He’s already mentioned to the Times that he has no plans to refurbish the storefronts.

While preservationists are calling for, well, preservation and some cultural leaders want, well, cultural space, City Councilmember Leslie Curran is lobbying for art galleries, because you know, she owns one. But she cares a lot about the arts, too, as evidenced by her push for the firing of former city’s cultural affairs manager Ann Wykell.

Oh, and this is the same Leslie Curran who voted for the previous developer’s condo wet dream back in 2006 along with the rest of the City Council at the time. Other city officials and downtown leaders backed that sale, too:

“It’s an evolutionary kind of thing,’’ said Don Shea, director of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership. “The uses that evolved in that block in the last few years are not the highest and best.’’

Now, after selling part of Central Avenue’s soul to developers, city officials are once again throwing money at a problem they created:

Last week, the city began removing old benches and pruning trees on the street. In coming weeks, benches with bumps that deter sleeping will be added, along with better lighting. Sidewalks will be cleaned and parking spaces restriped.

This focus on the 600 block of Central is also part of the city’s efforts to “bridge” the different districts of downtown. Curran is leading a workshop this summer on that. Neighborhoods should tell Curran they don’t need any more of her “help,” lest the rest of St. Pete end up like 600 Central Avenue or, perhaps worse, Baywalk.

As for the problem of homeless and graffiti taggers? Just send them on over to the offices of 601 Central LLC and tell those developers to deal with the mess.

(Photo Credit: unprose/Flickr)

7 thoughts on “City leaders destroy Central Avenue, now complain about it”

  1. Ginger says:

    Thanks for helping to keep this issue top-of-mind! I own a business on this block, and have been trying to get Crislip cleaned up for more than a year with no success. It is an eyesore and a haven for some embarrassing activity – particularly when we want to walk to lunch with a client.

    Unfortunately, we need help, and some things have to be done by the city. Things like replacing the benches, clearing the trees to allow in more light, and repainting the parking stripes really do help.

    No, we can’t go back and change what the former owner (and the city council) did to kick out those businesses. What’s done is done. We can only look ahead and try to make this a lively and attractive part of our city again.

    Our fingers are crossed for some progress soon.

  2. Heidi says:

    I often ride my bike through this area and wonder WTF happened? Thank you for the back story. Now – can you tell me why o why The Kitchen closed further up the street? I LOVED THAT PLACE. They had a pug mascot and everything. I loved that place so much that I made MAGNETS out of its sub sandwich stickers. (The stickers had pugs on ’em. I had to craft them into something more permanent.)

  3. saintpetersblog says:

    And now they want to really fuck with Central Avenue by screwing with the parking. WTF is wrong with this city?

  4. angie says:

    i miss the old shops and the way downtown used to be. im sick of the rich fucks coming in and destroying the beautiful and unique parts of the city. Starbooty and the record store is pretty much all thats left standing out of all the mom and pop stores that used to be there. Soon enough the whole place will be nothing but a torist attraction and place for rich ppl to live and park their stupid hummers. Its all about $$$ but what about us locals that love the city just the way it is? Very diffrent from what it used to be and does NOT need anymore change. Unless its to bring back what was. Ppl dont like the punk rockers and the homeless ppl who hang around down there because its embarresing? but we are the ones who really love the city for what it is. And we are not the ugly in the
    city its the corporations and condos that will go up to replace it all thats ugly.

  5. Steve says:

    Leslie Curran is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She just doesn’t get it…that a bohemian art culture is at the forefront of true art, not the decorative bland variety she showcases in her overrated and overpriced gallery. There is a fun and phunky music scene in the area of Crislip and, if anything is needed to help struggling artists, is affordable housing. Ms. Curran is in apparent denial that a vibrant art gallery scene has lots of artists struggling to make ends meet. That is why there is public housing in Manhattan for performing artists…two towers both 40 stories tall. They have avoided more homeless artists on the streets. Ms. Curran is way too suburban for St Pete. She just doesn’t get it. It was too funny to see the opening of the new Crislip art galleries. Valet parking amongst empty beer cans. She is overstating the importance of the new Dali museum and Chihuly collection. The Dali doesn’t have rotating installations, Chihuly had his time in the sun over a decade ago, and the Musuem of Fine Arts in St Pete is, in totality, the size of one wing of a major art museum anywhere in the world. Good luck
    embellishing this scene as a major draw for St Pete. Just who would want to come here in the summer and buy art? Most will opt to go to Atlanta or New Orleans for some real cutting edge art, even Orlando and especially Miami. Good luck, Ms. Curran. I suggest that you focus on
    upgrading your so called gallery so that your sales increase. You are probably thinking that with a larger art scene, your gallery will flourish. Wrong! Your art is safe and overpriced. I’d rather shop at an art fair anyday than go to your place.

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