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Students visualize beach face lift

A USF graduate class last week presented ideas aimed at making St. Pete Beach the coastal city of the future.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001


ST. PETE BEACH -- From turning Blind Pass Road into a pedestrian mall with Main Street-style storefronts to turning more Pass-a-Grille avenues into one-way streets, University of South Florida architecture students presented a range of fresh ideas for St. Pete Beach last week.

The graduate students, enrolled in a USF community design course that embraces one community for a semester and rethinks the styles of its neighborhoods, devised ideas for St. Pete Beach that maximize the waterfront and target areas that the city should show off.

Some of the concepts -- such as building high-rises in the resort hotel area along Gulf Boulevard -- violate current density regulations. Some -- such as one student's vision of helping Upham Beach by razing Starlite Tower -- ignore basic rules of private property.

The ideas are aimed at making St. Pete Beach a coastal city of the future, focused on making the city streets more compatible with public transportation, walking and cycling. Students also hoped to open up views of the waterfront along Gulf Boulevard, even when that means encouraging property owners to build higher buildings.

Mayor Ward Friszolowski, an architect himself, said he was pleased with the students' outside-the-box thinking about the future of St. Pete Beach. Unconstrained by laws or politics, the students envisioned concepts that might not have been discovered by more traditional city planners.

"We can so often easily get caught up in today's issues and sometimes don't get the time to look at a long-range vision," Friszolowski said after the students' presentation to the City Commission last week.

"The boundaries are the laws that we have to live with," City Manager Carl Schwing said. "But they can be changed."

Students in the class, led by USF Professor David Crane and Associate Professor Trent Green, divided the city into four regions. Different teams focused on reinventing the community design of these neighborhoods:

BLIND PASS ROAD. The commercial and high-density residential strips along Blind Pass Road are about to become a construction site, with the Department of Transportation planning to turn the two-lane portions of the road north of 75th Avenue into a five-lane.

Eric Glinsboeckel, who headed the team of students who looked at Blind Pass Road, said they found the DOT was unjustified in widening Blind Pass Road. As a result, they suggested adding a landscaped median along DOT's planned center turn lane.

Glinsboeckel's team also endorsed the city's plans for a large park at the current site of St. Pete Beach City Hall. The city plans to move its City Hall across the street on to the intersection of Corey and Mangrove avenues.

The students recommended an outdoor theater for the park the city will create at the old City Hall site.

"We have the water here," Glinsboeckel said. "Why not take advantage of it?"

COREY AVENUE AREA. For Corey Avenue, the students' ideas focused on taking advantage of the water on the east and west sides of the street.

On the east end, in the Boca Ciega Bay, they envisioned a marina, as well as a transportation hub for the beach trolley and other forms of public transportation. On the west end, they hoped to tear down some developments that prevent sand from washing onto Upham Beach from the north.

"We're planning on demolishing all these high-rises resorts and reclaiming that as Upham Beach," said student Santiago Chang, describing a plan that could open the waterfront as well as protect Upham Beach from beach erosion.

RESORT AREA OF GULF BOULEVARD. One student who worked on the resort section of St. Pete Beach called this area "the main economic engine of this community."

"Taller, thinner high-rises would open up sunsets," the student, Ben Rudgers, said.

Rudgers and his colleagues on the resort area of St. Pete Beach suggested the city encourage developers to build tall buildings that open up views of the waterfront from Gulf Boulevard.

The team also suggested pedestrian-friendly crosswalks linking beachfront hotels with restaurants and retail stores on the east side of Gulf Boulevard.

PASS-A-GRILLE. The team that focused on this southern tip of St. Pete Beach pointed out the problems facing property owners in the neighborhood. While the values of their aging homes deflate, their property values increase, making new buyers more prone to demolishing old bungalows in favor of large, more hurricane-proof homes.

"I would hate to see it become this private community for only the people who can afford to live down there," student Brock Sherrard said.

The team suggested redevelopment of Eighth Avenue, Pass-a-Grille's historic main street before it merged into St. Pete Beach. Because residential parking is a commodity in Pass-a-Grille, the team also suggested making turning more of the avenues into one-way streets to accommodate parking on each side of the roads.

Throughout the city, the students also encouraged St. Pete Beach to make way for parking facilities beachwide so property owners could be freed of their obligations to create parking space on their properties. Such a move would allow those property owners to keep more of their land open, as opposed to paving it, the students said.

City Manager Carl Schwing said he was pleased the city was asked to participate in a program that allowed students, who had no prior knowledge of past successes and failures in St. Pete Beach, to take a fresh look at improving the city.

"The only boundaries are the laws we have to live with," Schwing said. "But they can be changed."

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