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Beach towns younger, not more racially diverse

One real estate agent speculates that the high cost of living may be keeping minorities away from the beaches.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 31, 2001

One real estate agent speculates that the high cost of living may be keeping minorities away from the beaches.

A few more people. A lot more children. And, as has been the case for decades, the beaches are overwhelmingly white.

The color barrier remains real on the barrier islands: Of the 35,669 people who live in the 10 cities between Belleair Beach and St. Pete Beach, 138 are African-Americans.

The U.S. Census Bureau released its first batch of numbers Tuesday from Census 2000, and although more detailed information will be released periodically during the next year, the numbers already reveal a younger face for the Pinellas beach, though it's essentially the same color.

Redington Shores, for example, reported no African-Americans in 1990; in 2000, there were five.

The exception along the coast is Gulfport, which more than doubled its number of African-Americans -- from 391 in 1990 to 884 in 2000. Whites now make up 89.4 percent of the population in Gulfport.

The increase reflects a natural migration from the traditionally black neighborhoods of St. Petersburg, said Lou Brown of Lou Brown Realty in St. Petersburg. Brown, who is black, remembers being chased out of Gulfport and onto the St. Petersburg side of 49th Street as a youngster.

In the past 10 years, the number of African-Americans living in Gulfport increased by 126 percent, and now they make up 7.1 percent of the city's population.

The barrier islands have been slower to change.

Brown said he thinks the low number of minorities could be blamed on the high cost of living on the beach, among other factors.

He suggested that although some overt racism may still exist in predominantly white neighborhoods like those found on the barrier islands, he blames the low numbers more on the fact that African-Americans historically have felt uncomfortable there.

Combine that with the fact that "no one wants to be a pioneer," Brown said. "There is the old perception, and it may not still be valid, but it was valid for so many years, that African-Americans just aren't welcome."

Tierra Verde has the highest number of African-Americans as a percentage of its total population.

Still, the number is quite low: 1.7 percent of that community's residents are black.

The increased number of children on the beaches, once the domain of retirees and seasonal residents, came as no surprise in St. Pete Beach, where the city has been working to improve its parks and dealing with traffic issues in neighborhoods such as Vina Del Mar, where young families are common.

Citywide, St. Pete Beach has 8 percent more residents. The under-18 age group, however, grew by 38 percent.

"Clearly, we see it each and every day, but it's hard to put it together," City Manager Carl Schwing said. "We have started a new life cycle in St. Pete Beach."

Other cities following the trend are Treasure Island, where the population grew 3 percent while the under-18 population grew 17 percent; and South Pasadena, where the population remained relatively stagnant with 2 percent growth while the under-18 age group grew by 48 percent.

Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores went against trend, reporting faster growth in their total populations than in the under-18 age group.

Those cities also went against the tide in Tampa Bay, where Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties all reported faster population growth rates among children than in the general population.

Countywide, the under-18 age group climbed 17 percent in Pinellas, compared with 8 percent for the total population.

In 1972, when Eddie Gayton was 7 years old and growing up among the retirees and rock lawns of the Isle of Palms in Treasure Island, he was an anomaly.

Now his 41/2-year-old daughter has plenty of children to play with in Isle of Palms.

"I think she's pretty lucky. They're all about the same age, all these kids," Gayton said. "I had maybe four or five people between me and my brother's age group to hang out with."

* * *

For information about Census 2000, visit

Belleair Beach

Population decreased 15 percent in the 1990s, from 2,070 to 1,751.

96.7 of residents are white -- the smallest percentage of white people among the 10 municipalities on the barrier islands.

There were six Asians in 1990; now there are 24.

Belleair Shore

Due to a change in how census numbers are reported, the figures for Belleair Shore are not available.


More than doubled its African-American population, from 391 in 1990 to 884 in 2000.

Hispanics, who overtook blacks as the state's largest minority group, make up 3.5 percent of the population in Gulfport. Blacks make up 7.1 percent.

Indian Rocks Beach

The population grew 28 percent in the 1990s, a bulletlike pace compared with the countywide growth rate of 8 percent.

Twenty more Asians, Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders were reported than in 1990. Because so few minorities live on the beaches, the number represents a more than 158 percent increase.

Indian Shores

Gained 300 people during the 1990s, bringing its total population to 1,705.

98.4 percent white, with four African-Americans living there.

Madeira Beach

Population increased 7 percent, from 4,225 in 1990 to 4,511 in 2000.

Hispanics are the largest minority group: 107 residents in 2000, compared with 105 in 1990.

12 African-Americans, compared with 10 in 1990.

North Redington Beach

With 1,474 residents, remains smallest of the three Redingtons though its population increased by 30 percent and Redington Beach's fell by 5 percent.

African-American population increased from one to four; Asian population increased from three to 17; and its Hispanic population increased from 13 to 45.

Redington Beach

Overall population decreased from 1,626 to 1,529 -- a 5 percent decline.

Five more children under age 18 lived in Redington Beach in 2000 than in 1990.

African-American population increased from one in 1990 to seven in 2000.

Redington Shores

Only beach municipality to report no African-Americans living there in 1990 had five in 2000.

Overall population decreased by 5 percent. The number of children younger than 18, in a departure from what many other parts of the beach experienced, declined by 22 percent.

Largest of the three Redingtons with 2,238 people.

St. Pete Beach

97.6 percent white. Hispanics are the largest minority group, with 249 people making up 2.5 percent of the population. Sixty-six African-Americans live in St. Pete Beach.

Matched county's growth rate: 8 percent. Went from 9,200 to 9,929 residents.

18-and-under population grew by 38 percent, which matches the Pasco County rate, the highest in Tampa Bay.

South Pasadena

Two minority groups lost numbers in South Pasadena. Fifteen African-Americans lived there in 1990; 12 in 2000. Five American Indians lived there in 2000; two in 2000.

In 1990, the median age in South Pasadena was 71. Though median age data have not yet been released, the retiree-prominent city could be looking at a major shift: The under-18 population grew by 48 percent in the 1990s, making children 2.9 percent of the population.

Tierra Verde

African-Americans make up 1.8 percent of Tierra Verde's 3,574 people recorded in the 2000 census. That's 64 African-Americans, and a higher percentage than any of the barrier islands' municipalities.

Tierra Verde is larger than these six barrier island beach towns: Belleair Beach, 1,751; Belleair Shore, which had 60 in 1990; Indian Shores, 1,705; North Redington Beach, 1,474; Redington Beach, 1,539; and Redington Shores, 2,238.

Hispanics are the largest minority group at 122, or 3.4 percent of the population.

Treasure Island

Population increased 3 percent, only slightly faster than the population of Monroe County, Florida's slowest-growing county.

The number of children under 18 in Treasure Island jumped from 571 to 667.

With 7,450 residents, retains its spot as the second-largest beach city. St. Pete Beach is the largest.

- Compiled by Times staff writer Amy Wimmer and Times researcher Connie Humburg.

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