By JON WILSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 12, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- Starting Nov. 17, the drama expands downtown. BayWalk opens, and it's like a middle scene in an action movie. The plot has been building. What's going to happen next?
Where downtown nudges the waterfront, nothing this big has come along for a generation. Maybe longer.
Developers and entrepreneurs expect 3- or 4-million visitors a year. But still they wonder: How will this creation so long in coming, this object of so much passion and expense, actually play?
Certainly, the mall butterflies, ever alert for a happening, quiver to view the latest spot. But BayWalk needs more than fickle trend-spotters. Will it get them?
St. Petersburg's newest attraction offers cutting-edge restaurants, unusual and upscale shops, the kind of bookstore where people go for dates. And perhaps the biggest engine of all, 20 movie screens.
The movies open immediately, as will some of the other businesses. Other spots will come on line more slowly. But as of Friday, you can patronize, wander and gawk throughout. It will no longer be a hard hat area.
So resident sages speculate. The question is whether St. Petersburg will like BayWalk enough to come, and come again. Sometimes a passive affection can develop, the kind that appreciates the idea of presence, but lacks the elusive power to literally pull people in the door.
Perhaps BayWalk will appeal to out-of-towners more than St. Petersburg's frequently drowsy legions.
It is a mystery unfolding.
Not the least interesting thread is how BayWalk's dynamic will affect other businesses, both downtown and at more remote centers such as malls in northwest St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park and west Tampa.
Some grumble at the competition. But another theory holds that BayWalk will create a new energy bound to benefit businesses close to it. It seems certain the downtown area will swell with new foot traffic -- at certain times, there's a moderate to heavy amount now.
Here's something else to mull. Twenty years ago, St. Petersburg muttered at the lack of direction downtown. And now pundits debate what all the new development will mean.
The action must be getting good.
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