Skyway Plaza: GPPCA, along with the collaborative neighborhood associations called Communities of Pinellas Point (COPP), have historically been highly engaged with then property owner Brixmor Property Group and the Florida Housing Coalition (FHC) [www.flhousing.org] as plans for redevelopment and repurposing of the plaza were set into motion. This engagement included two food truck rallies on the property, City Hall support, and executive on-site tours, all with the intent of attracting investor interest in the beleaguered yet prime real estate.
In July 2017, the City of St. Petersburg in cooperation with Brixmor, shared the cost of enlisting Urban Land Institute (ULI) to conduct an extensive study of the plaza and the area. ULI was tasked to present redevelopment and rebranding ideas for the essentially empty plaza and the Greater Pinellas Point area overall. At that time, the Sweetbay market had been closed some four years (February 2013), yet Brixmor continued to collect on the lease into 2020.
The ULI report can be found here: https://tampabay.uli.org/uli-resources/uli-recommendations-for-st-petersburgs-skyway-plaza/
In late 2018, GPPCA became aware of the Florida Housing Coalition's opportunity to explore reimagining the Skyway Plaza. Their project was in direct alignment with the 2017 ULI recommendations for 'adaptive reuse' of vacated big box retail spaces. FHC presented a promising redevelopment concept specifically for the former Sweetbay Supermarket which included repurposing that area with incubator spaces for aspiring entrepreneurs, building a second story to affordably house those entrepreneurs and other income-qualified renters, plus extensive landscaping upgrades.
FHC's comprehensive concepts were shared at a February 12, 2019, public meeting with GPPCA and neighboring communities (see photo above) held at Lake Vista Center. At that meeting, citizens were given the opportunity to take an up close look at FHC's vision. Using multiple artists renderings, meeting attendees were given sticky-notes to write their impressions and post them to the renderings. FHC used those notes to compile feedback to be considered as the project moved forward.
The timeline to launch such a novel project was understood to be at least one year. Funding, however, was contingent upon FHC successfully meeting national ‘Innovation Challenge’ grant requirements as set by Fannie Mae (read more here: https://capmrkt.fanniemae.com/thechallenge/florida-housing-coalition.html ).
The one year timeline would unfortunately collide with the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020. FHC’s ‘adaptive reuse’ initiative is still alive (see their website) and COPP plans to stay in touch with them to understand where they stand with the Fannie Mae challenge grant project. Find FHC's exploratory presentation here: https://flhousingconference.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Adaptive-Reuse-and-Affordable-Housing-1.pdf
GPPCA and COPP were briefed in October 2019, that the plaza would gain a public healthcare/office expansion facility sponsored by Advantage Village Academy. The facility was to occupy the former Sweetbay liquor store space and was not expected to conflict with the FHC reimagining project. The AVA project did not manifest. Read their news release here: https://advantagevillageacademy.com/
COPP learned in mid-May 2020 that Skyway Plaza had been sold to a local private investor and day-to-day management of the property had been assumed by Bruce Strumpf, Inc. What plans the new owners have for the property remain unknown; however, COPP and GPPCA remain committed to staying as informed as possible and sharing that information with the communities represented by the collaborative neighborhood associations.
Because the plaza is private property, insight about exactly what contractual decisions are in motion is limited to the negotiating private parties. Therefore, the associations, notwithstanding ongoing engagement, can only share information about the future of the plaza as it is factually revealed.
To that end, the association has learned that the Tax Collector/Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) field office will close in the near future. COPP first learned in December 2019, that the DMV services would be assumed by what is today a new consolidated Pinellas Tax Collector and Property Appraiser service center at 2500 34th St N, Saint Petersburg. The most recent tenant and GPPCA business partner is ‘Toriano’s Best Daiquiris, Pizza and Much More‘ that opened in September, 2020, which also includes an event space.
Food Truck Festival, July 2019
Coquina Key Shopping Plaza: According to City Codes, the ACE Hardware contractors have not submitted requests for essential permits to move forward with the buildout. On-site observations indicate the buildout has come to a complete halt. There have been numerous complaints about unsightly abandoned building materials that became wind-blown, obstructing drive paths. The plaza has been the subject of multiple complaints from residents for lack of upkeep, noise pollution and reckless drivers in the parking lot.
GPPCA and the collaborative neighborhood associations called Communities of Pinellas Point (COPP) have had several meetings with police, concerned residents and shopkeepers to seek remediation of the multiple problems that have manifest over the past year or so, most notably the dangerous stunt driving (also called ‘toe tagging’) and racing in the parking lot that inevitably spills onto public roadways.
Saint Petersburg Police (SPD) has a 'no chase' policy, meaning a fleeing stunt driver will not be pursued at high speed for the sake of public safety. This policy is reasonable, yet offenders seem to be fully aware of it and continue to exploit it, unabated. The toe tagging trouble is further exacerbated by the juvenile justice system that often treats offenders with leniency, leading to a revolving door of repeat offenders who play the system until they are subject to being handled as an adult where the consequences become more severe. SPD has also attempted to proactively monitor social media platforms where planners publicize toe tagging events in an effort to deploy officers before the activity begins.
As it is with the Skyway Plaza, the Coquina Key Shopping Plaza is private property; therefore, insight about exactly what contractual decisions are in motion is limited to the negotiating private parties. The associations, notwithstanding ongoing engagement, can only share information about the future of the plaza as it is factually revealed. COPP is committed to keeping citizens informed and engaged in thoughtful, respectful and productive conversations, free of rumor, speculation and conjuncture.
After attempting for over a year to bring remedy to the multiple concerns involving the plaza property by engaging the owner, police and tenants, the COPP on December 4, 2020, had a virtual meeting with Mayor Kriseman, SPD Assistant Chief Mike Kovacsev along with District 1 Commander Major Frank Williams. Also attending were Chief of Staff Kevin King and Neighborhood Affairs Administrator Robert Gerdes.
COPP Association Presidents from Bahama Shores (Walter Borden) Bayou Highlands (Norm Scott), GPPCA (Barbara Ellis) and Lakewood Terrace (Ken Conklin) and concerned citizens from Coquina Key were able to present a host of questions about how the City could intervene with decisive and effective nuisance mitigation actions. Managing crowd gatherings and reckless driving on privately owned property presents a unique set of challenges which tends to limit the scope of the City's authority. The City does have authority to address businesses who violate COVID-19 mitigation ordinances, and will do so at the plaza as violations are observed. The City executive team intends to continue outreach efforts with the property owner to strike a more responsive and amicable alliance, including attempting to learn the owner’s future plans for the entire property.
As a result of the collective efforts of COPP, SPD and tenants, the plaza owner has made some physical changes to the lot like cement parking space bump stops and defining more restrictive ‘no parking’ zones. Still, there continued to be racing activity and parking lot gatherings with loud music blaring past midnight, typically on Fridays and Saturdays and more so on Sundays.
On a brighter note, over the past two weeks, Chief Kovacsec has assigned 12 police officers to patrol the property for observed illegal activity, Friday to Sunday. Chief Kovacsec himself has completed shift assignments at the plaza. The property owner has a blanket no trespassing policy daily, 3am to 7am. Chief Kovacsev reported that this recent police presence tactic has significantly reduced the number of calls for service due to noise and stunt driving. SPD plans to remain visible on the property and will evaluate the impact of their presence into the new year and adjust accordingly.
The City executives reiterated to attendees the legal challenges faced by Codes and law enforcement when the concerns occur on private property. They also acknowledged where they could have acted more demonstrably in the past. Going forward, each entity expressed commitment to exploring options that would gain the best outcomes for improved public safety and the business health of the plaza. COPP will remain engaged.
Danny E. White, Author
GPPCA Board of Directors