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Channel District surveys reveal frustration, hopes

By Amy Scherzer, Times Staff Writer
Published February 29, 2008


CHANNEL DISTRICT - Consultants hired by the city's Community Redevelopment Agency to help determine the role of the arts in the Channel District summarized major findings this week.

Challenges and opportunities were identified from responses to an online survey of 2,300 residents, business owners, artists and nonprofit organizations.

About 65 individual interviews were also conducted.

Four major challenges were summed up for about 25 people who came to the Florida Aquarium on Monday evening and Tuesday morning:

- Parking is a concern of visitors and business owners.

- Lack of pedestrian traffic hinders retail growth.

- The high cost of real estate is perceived as a barrier.

- The perception of poor urban planning is prevalent.

Other issues that were raised concerned safety, security, street lighting and the perception of crime.

The survey also showed that people don't make a distinction between the cluster of shops and restaurants at Channelside and the broader Channel District neighborhood, said Leith ter Muelen, president of LandAir Project Resources, which conducted the survey and will be paid $35,000 to assess existing arts assets, research national trends, vet ideas and make recommendations.

Respondents perceived that the area attracts a 20-something demographic to an atmosphere attuned to clubs and parties, noted consultant Jeffrey Ling, vice president of Evergreen Solutions, which is helping with the survey.

That image does not distinguish between thriving Channelside entertainment and the emerging Channel District, Ling concurred, also noting the need for branding.

Frustration came across loud and clear in focus groups conducted by the consultants.

Residency hasn't taken off as expected. Transportation problems include getting in and out of the district. The streetcar and parking got mixed reviews.

Ling also said 57 percent of respondents were unaware that the Channel District is in a state Enterprise Zone with opportunities for business owners to accrue tax benefits.

Consultant Paul Nagle used buzzwords like diversity, outreach and integration, citing Providence, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Dublin as examples of cities turning arts districts into sustainable economic successes.

"The key is to diversify programming, audience and revenue sources," Nagle said. "The broader the support, the broader the survival."

Asked to name the area's attributes, two Channel District residents spoke up.

"The potential," Blake Hayden said, a board member of the Community Redevelopment Agency. "That's a positive to me."

"Location," said Darren Guilbeau, also a business owner. "You can walk to the St. Pete Times Forum. It's easy to get to the airport, Brandon, Ybor."

Both men agreed with Stageworks Theatre board member Andrea Graham's call to capitalize on the outdoor aspect of the Channel District, calling for cafes, street vendors, play areas and an open air market.

Ling closed the morning session asking participants to name a more optimal location in which to live or open a business.

"Downtown St. Petersburg," murmured a few.

Amy Scherzer can be reached at scherzer@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3332.