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Very model of a modern Whitted

A USF architecture class displays a densely populated urban center with parks and shops.

By BRYAN GILMER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 3, 2002

A USF architecture class displays a densely populated urban center with parks and shops.

TAMPA -- St. Petersburg city staffers examined and praised architecture students' ideas Friday for transforming Albert Whitted Municipal Airport and part of the Bayfront center into a dense, trendy new neighborhood with a diverse collection of waterfront parks.

"First of all, good work," city economic development director Ron Barton told the group of 17 graduate students who presented a plan at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "What you found is, it's a complicated equation here."

Yet they faced a friendly crowd Friday. Airport advocate Jack Tunstill was miffed that anti-redevelopment activists were not invited.

"They didn't want any opposition, obviously," he said. "They didn't want anybody to comment from the airport standpoint."

Barton first suggested such a redevelopment project to the City Council, in general terms, this year. Intrigued but skeptical, council members asked Barton to develop cost estimates.

Meanwhile, St. Petersburg architect Tim Clemmons, who also advocates redeveloping Whitted and teaches the architecture class at USF, assigned his students to take Barton's broad proposal and suggest how to fill in the details. Three teams of students created neighborhood designs. Then they combined the best elements into a single plan.

On the bayfront around the Albert Whitted Airport peninsula, the city would build a public promenade, an amphitheater, two new stretches of downtown beach and a mangrove estuary, the students said. Barton said he liked the variety of parks.

A mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhood called Whitted Park would replace the rest of the airport and part of the Bayfront center, the students said. They would extend the grid of city streets into the land that now lies behind the airport's chain-link fence. Extensions of Sixth Avenue S and Bayshore Drive would be major thoroughfares.

"We are giving back 40 acres of parks and open space to the public, with the parks all around the edge," student Nutan Apte said.

Students estimated that 3,320 new apartments, condominiums, lofts and townhomes could be built on 56 acres of the site they suggest be privately developed, fewer than the 4,500 Barton estimated.

That's because the students believe 34 acres -- not 8 -- will be needed for infrastructure, such as roads and a wedge-shaped stormwater pond that would serve as a canal-like neighborhood centerpiece. (The mangrove estuary would help filter the stormwater.)

The students would also:

Tear down Bayfront Center Arena and replace it with a conference center and "Mahaffey Plaza," keeping the Mahaffey Theater.

Retain the Coast Guard station at the tract's southeastern corner and upgrade the Port of St. Petersburg to handle cruise ship traffic and water taxis to Tampa.

Place a north-south street near the center of the project with neighborhood retail shops and restaurants at street level with apartments above.

"As a class, we've struggled with taking this big idea and saying, if I was a person walking on one of these corners, what would I want?" student Jim Busbee said.

The students knew politics would play into their work, which Clemmons thought made the project good preparation for professional life.

The students said that redeveloping the property would be an enormous undertaking, but Friday's discussion raised several issues they didn't address:

Would entrepreneurs have an economic incentive to build any of it? Could the city get state approval to zone new coastal land residential? If so, how could it construct the new buildings above the flood plain?

Parts of the land on the site could be built up, and others could feature elevated front doors like a New York City brownstone home, professors suggested.

"What I think we hope as a class," Busbee said, "is that this project be used as a tool to realize how complex this is and what the potential is."

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