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A downtown transformed

Neighborhood Times offers you a sneak preview of St. Petersburg's changing skyline.

By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer
Published March 19, 2006

[Times graphic by Steve Madden]

ST. PETERSBURG - The construction crane has become the stylus writing the city's new signature.

On any given day, you can count eight or 10 of the towering tools of change in downtown alone.

They are transforming St. Petersburg's skyline. View it from the top of the municipal Pier. You can see what is happening and perhaps envision the city's front yard a few years from now.

Neighborhood Times wanted to give you a sneak preview. The skyline poster is not meant to include every project planned or introduced. It shows the ones most likely to change the heart of downtown.

So photographer Skip O'Rourke went up in a helicopter to make an image looking west from Tampa Bay along a few waterfront blocks.

Artist Steve Madden added buildings either planned or under construction as of January.

We leave it to you, the beholder, to determine whether this view, projected two years into the future, should be a source of pride or a wellspring of worry.

It represents, most observers say, the biggest skyline change in the city's history, surpassing even the first big boom of the 1920s. It's not yet certain what economic and social changes will accompany the new look.

What is measurable are its depth and breadth.

The Bank of America currently is the city's tallest building, at 386 feet. If built as planned, Signature Place will become No. 1, with 4 more feet.

The Florencia and the Cloisters condos on Beach Drive often are credited with sparking the current boom. The view on Page XX is as close to scale as we could manage, and it is striking to see how those two condos may stand out less when new developments are complete.

Another yardstick is what downtown looked like a quarter-century ago, when leaders were desperate to revive its droopy character.

In 1981, the tallest buildings were the Bayfront Tower, the Hilton Hotel and the Plaza Tower. A bar, a pool hall and a down-at-the-heels hotel - burned in a suspected arson - filled part of the block that became the site of the Barnett Tower, which was renamed the Bank of America.

The Soreno Hotel dominated the block where the Florencia now stands. The Vinoy Resort was closed. Construction on what became Tropicana Field was six years away. BayWalk was not yet a twinkle in anyone's eye.

A miniboom in 1984-85 brought the City Center, a new Florida Federal tower (which became today's BB&T) and the Bank of Florida (now the SouthTrust Bank Tower). The condos on Beach Drive and Vinoy Place on Fifth Avenue NE came on line 1999 to 2003.

We hadn't seen anything yet.


[Last modified March 19, 2006, 07:20:13]

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