Towering condos help South Pasadena pack in a lot of population into 1 square mile. That pairs people of similar needs.
By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 1, 2001
SOUTH PASADENA -- Through a language barrier, City Commissioner Joan Runyon tried to describe her city to people in the Greek village of Karlovasi, South Pasadena's sister city.
Both small cities have the same number of people -- about 6,000 -- but while Karlovasi's are spread out over 35 miles, South Pasadena's are packed into less than 1 square mile.
"I pointed to them, saying "their people,' spread my arms wide. Then I pointed to myself, and I put my hands straight up in the air," Runyon recalled. "It really tickled all of us."
South Pasadena's high-rise condominiums, the "straight up in the air" style of living, distinguish the city from its neighbors. Though more young families have moved into the city in recent years, particularly in the small enclave of single-family homes on Pasadena Isle, most people move to South Pasadena as they face old age.
The city has the highest median age -- 70.6 -- of any Pinellas city, which means half the people in town are older than that and half are younger. That age, which is about six months older than the median age reported in the 1990 census, reflects better health care that is helping people live longer.
The number of children nearly doubled between 1990 and 2000, though the city still includes only 166 residents younger than 18.
What brings retirees to South Pasadena? An opportunity to age with their peers, a home within walking distance from services they will need as they get older and, often, find themselves on their own.
Recently released census numbers indicate people in South Pasadena are the most likely in Pinellas to live alone.
Agnes Stebelton, 72, first came to South Pasadena 22 years ago. By the time her husband passed away two years ago, they had become involved in the community -- Mrs. Stebelton is now president of the South Pasadena Civic Association -- and they "really came to love the place."
"I know when we came down here, I was just 50, and I know different ones would come visit me and say, "Why do you want to live down here with these old people?' " Stebelton recalled. "I was looking to the future, thinking if I do need help or if I don't have a car, this would be convenient."
Everything is here: three grocery stores, compared with one in nearby Gulfport, which has twice as many people; several restaurants, most of which cater to a retiree clientele; and Palms of Pasadena Hospital.
"You want to be as self-sufficient as you can, and in this area, I can walk to the barber and the beauty parlor, the accountant, the lawyer, to the doctor, to the supermarket, to the drugstore, to the Beach Theatre. It's so ideal," Runyon said. "It just has so much for people who are retired or ready to retire. I would like it to stay that way."
The fact that South Pasadena is made up almost solely of condominiums, plus the bisection through its middle by a major highway, Pasadena Avenue, makes the city less of a place to meet your neighbor across the backyard fence. The lifestyle sometimes divides residents into groups based on which condominium they call home, and at election time, all the largest condominium complexes host their own "Meet the Candidates" nights.
But the city's concentration of condominiums can have its down side, say some of those few residents who don't live in condos.
Take Ken Carignan, president of the Causeway Mobile Homeowners Association. He lives in Causeway Village, one of the few places remaining in Pinellas where a mobile homeowner can live on the water.
He is concerned that when city commissioners set policy, they do not always consider how Causeway's 225 mobile homes are affected because most of their constituents live in condos. Carignan hopes that attitude will change, however, because he plans to become more active at City Hall.
"I'm an advocate of getting involved, and they're going to be hearing more from us," said Carignan, 64. "We're very proud of our community, Causeway Village."
When he first moved to Florida from Long Island, Carignan and his wife tried renting a condominium on St. Pete Beach. It wasn't for them.
"We had a beautiful view, but we weren't comfortable with condominium living because we feel it's not as social," he said. "It's more like living in an apartment in New York City. We weren't satisfied, so six months later we wanted a mobile home."
Still, Carignan's assessment of what attracted him to South Pasadena sounds similar to the condo dwellers': "amenities, location."
"Within 15 minutes of my location, I have everything I need," he said. "I have my mall, which is Tyrone. I can go see the Devil Rays. I can go a bit farther and go to The Pier. Walking out my gate into South Pasadena, I have all the amenities I need. It's convenience, really."