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    BayWalk opens today -- partly

    The movie theaters and a few shops and restaurants will be ready. The rest are still working on their interiors.

    [Times photo: Bill Serne]
    Steve Fitzgerald of Keystone Tile and Marble in Largo sets Italian and Mexican tiles Thursday as BayWalk is prepared for its grand opening today in downtown St. Petersburg.

    By BRYAN GILMER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 17, 2000


    ST. PETERSBURG -- There's really nothing grand about today's opening of the long-awaited BayWalk dining, shopping and movie complex in downtown St. Petersburg.

    The movie theater will be open by 10 a.m. and so will Ann Taylor, the Mephisto shoe store, Hurricane Pass Outfitters, the Australian Creations jewelry store and a couple of other shops. The Adobo Grill will be open, in case you're hungry, but the large restaurants won't be.

    Some two-thirds of the businesses are still working on their interiors and will be closed today. They will open one by one over the coming weeks and months as they are ready.

    "I could wake up tomorrow morning, and one or two more may be open," Sembler Co. President Craig Sher said Thursday with a wry grin in his voice.

    There will be a live band on the stage above the cinema box office from 7 to 10 tonight.

    Another opening day touch is that the Muvico BayWalk 20 Theaters will have original props from the filming of How the Grinch Stole Christmas filling the lobby.

    Whoozits, whatzits, that sort of thing.

    "All that wild, swirling, Seussian stuff," including a giant teapot, said Wayne Garcia, a spokesman for the cinema chain.

    The cinema will offer kids the chance to have breakfast with Santa Claus Saturday from 9 to 10 a.m., then screen the Grinch movie. Tickets are available at the cinema's guest services desk.

    Thursday afternoon, a crew at Ann Taylor put the finishing touches on the store's racks of clothing.

    "The stock rolled in last week," manager Marie Grimes said. "We've been hanging and steaming and folding."

    Over at TooJay's restaurant, manager Jodi Gannon worked on training her new crew of servers and cooks. The glass cases near the register were filled, but those were just practice pastries, she explained.

    "You want to be sure you do it right the first time for the customers," she said.

    The restaurant plans to open Monday.

    The Adobo Grill was already selling its Mexican and Cuban food to neighboring shopkeepers and the work crews Thursday.

    "We opened early this morning just to test the waters," co-owner Chris Fernandez said and explained that Adobo Grill also will serve breakfast.

    "We had a little bit of action today at lunch," he added .

    A couple of area residents sneaked into the BayWalk plaza and watched as workers carried tools around.

    "I'm a nosy person," Lou Ganim of Kenneth City said from his seat on a bench. "I just want to know how nice this place is. I was noticing all the observation points, the seating outside. It's good."

    It's the kind of place you could spend a few hours and not feel hurried, Ganim said. Soothing, classical music wafted from an outdoor speaker near his bench.

    His friend Carol Thackham of St. Petersburg thought so, too.

    "It looks like a strolling place," she said.

    As much as Sher might like to have more businesses opening today, he said a week of private events leading up to the opening heartened him about how St. Petersburg will accept the cluster of shops around a decorated plaza, even if it opens in stages.

    "We learned that everyone was taken by the scale and the beauty," Sher said. "We learned we can handle a lot of people."

    Sher said the biggest pre-opening party filled just three floors of the seven-floor parking garage the city built a block south of BayWalk to serve it.

    Although the toilets at the theaters backed up last weekend, the problem has been fixed.

    "That's why we have pre-opening events," Sher said.

    Martin Gwynn, the director of retail operations for Hurricane Pass Outfitters, said BayWalk fits the pattern of his other shop openings.

    "These kind of things never come together the way they're supposed to," he said. "But they always come together."

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