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Buying into the BayWalk 'scene'

Moviegoers, pickup artists, lollygaggers: They're all here.

By CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published November 4, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG- News that BayWalk is for sale barely fazed regular patrons of the entertainment center that brought downtown to life.

"This place will be here forever," said Eric Masters, 29, who likes to pick up women at the BayWalk bars. "Everyone comes here."

Since BayWalk opened in 2000, it has become as much a part of St. Petersburg as RibFest or the Devil Rays or Mayor Rick Baker's "it's a great day" speeches.

The shopping center was built for $40-million - and the developer would not reveal an asking price - but whoever buys the 150,000-square-foot plaza will own more than a plot of real estate.

More than 3-million people visit the shopping complex every year to people-watch, catch a movie, drink, grab dessert, pick up women, pick up a birthday gift, go on a first date and buy furniture.

Activists protest the war in Iraq and President Bush. Teenagers with nothing better to do congregate near the escalator. On Saturday nights, the bold learn to salsa in the courtyard.

Amanda Cole and Robert Fernando had their first date at Tokyo Sushi House at BayWalk.

She ordered tuna sashimi and he wouldn't try it. Not one bite.

That's when Cole knew they could never make it as a couple. They stayed friends, and now he is engaged to her cousin, Linda.

"They are so perfect for each other, it's great," Cole said as she waited for her movie to begin Thursday night. "They both love T.G.I. Friday's. I hate it."

Masters goes to BayWalk to scope out groups of women at the Martini Bar. When one of them goes to the restroom or the bar, he will casually find his way across the room until he is standing next to her and can easily make small talk. It's too hard to hit on a woman when she's sitting with her friends, he explained.

"There is a pack mentality," he said. "They treat you like you're a piece of meat."

Charles Bennett, 74, heads to BayWalk about once a month to catch a movie. He goes during the day, when he and his friends can spread out in the half-empty theater without having to worry about a row of teenagers yelling obscenities, talking on their cell phones or throwing popcorn.

"These kids are so rude. They have no manners," he said. "There should be a curfew or something."

BayWalk is where Michelle Green shops for inspiration at Being, a trendy furniture store where a throw pillow can easily go for more than $100. Green, a paralegal, can't afford the satiny sheets or silver photo frames.

She jokes that she will eventually marry a rich lawyer and will be able to buy all the throw pillows she wants - and the strappy evening dress in the Ann Taylor window, for that matter.

Until then, she will settle for a scoop of vanilla at Ben & Jerry's.

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

[Last modified November 3, 2007, 21:50:47]


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