Old men fighting in city hall over BayWalk - was it for nothing?

11:45 PM, Oct 14, 2010   |    comments
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - It's the anniversary they only wish they could forget.

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the city council's controversial decision to give away the public sidewalk in front of the ailing BayWalk development to keep protestors and solicitors away from the complex.

However, the decision resulted in much more activity in council chambers than it did at BayWalk's lease office.

October 2009 coverage:

Council members were told vacating the sidewalk would be the assurance prospective tenants needed to move into BayWalk.  But since the 5-3 vote was cast, BayWalk has added just one tenant while losing seven.

"One-by-one, everybody is moving out," said Erick Lowe with furniture and design store hermanHOME, which opened at BayWalk in Nov. 2009.  "With each store moving out, we've seen less and less foot traffic."

Lowe said BayWalk's atrium is a ghost town and the developers haven't indicated when help may be on the way.

"I would say I'm disappointed in the progress that's been made in the last year," said Councilmember Herb Polson, who cast the decisive vote on the giveaway last year.  "I hope there's going to be some decisions made (by new tenants) and some announcements in the future."

St. Petersburg doesn't own or control BayWalk, but invested $20 million in the development when it was first built and the complex is considered a vital economic engine for Downtown.

A spokesman for BayWalk issued the following statement:

"We are continuing our efforts to attract a synergistic group of restaurant and entertainment tenants that will help achieve long-term success for BayWalk.  As anticipated, the sidewalk has been an important issue for prospects, and the vacation of the sidewalk has enabled us to overcome this concern.  During the past year we have entered into serious negotiations with several prospective anchor tenants. Because of the current economic climate, and specifically the shortage of credit available for new restaurant ventures, these prospects are faced with unique challenges that have made it extremely difficult to finalize commitments.  We remain optimistic and are encouraged by the ongoing activity level and interest from an impressive array of prospective tenants.  We are appreciative of the Mayor and City's support, and our prospects recognize and value the City's pro-BayWalk attitude."

BayWalk has also had success over the past year-plus with its Friday Night Wine and Music Series, held the third Friday of each month.  Local charities benefit from donations for wine.  This month's event, held on the Oct. 15 anniversary of the council chambers skirmish, will benefit a team walking in the Susan G. Komen Tampa Bay 3-Day.

BayWalk's largest remaining tenant, Muvico, also announced - with the City of St. Petersburg - 2,500 free movie tickets to patrons of eight local restaurants.  Customers at BellaBrava, Parkshore Grill, St. Pete Brasserie, 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House, The Hangar, Emilio's Bistro, Cafe Alma, and Savannah's can ask their server for tickets to one of Muvico's upscale "Gallery" theaters.

Mayor Bill Foster, who hadn't yet been elected to office at the time of the 2009 decision, said he recognized the importance of BayWalk's success.  Recently, he took a trip to Charlotte, N.C. to study how a similar downtown complex was thriving.  He said he remained optimistic that BayWalk would rebound.

The sidewalk, meanwhile, was set to be handed over to BayWalk management last fall.  But because new tenants have not been secured, the sidewalk has remained public property for the last year.

Connect with 10 News reporter Noah Pransky on Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky or Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky.

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