BayWalk is not dead, Bill Edwards tells St. Pete City Council

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BayWalk is not dead—not yet. And at the helm of the rescue team is Bill Edwards, the new owner of the complex who presented images of a new design to City Council yesterday. More modern architecture with rounded towers will take the place of the current Mediterranean theme. Edwards explained that to successfully take BayWalk off of life support and have it breathing on its own, he will bring in clothing stores, celebrity chefs and bulldozers.

This seems a likely resolution to address any design flaws, but was design really BayWalk’s biggest problem?

Yet, design was the core of the conversation with City Council. “The design concept is to eliminate the fortress layout that is there now,” said Edwards. In one image shared, the Muvico box office is gone and the structures that remain will face Second Ave North—widening on that end to increase storefront exposure.

Edwards also explained that he has three iconic chefs who have agreed to come to the redesigned BayWalk, without revealing names.

Tami Simms, president of the Downtown Business Association says that she supports the new design, believing that opening the complex, increasing visibility from the street is a widely supported concept. City development director Rick Mussett said the design also has Muvico’s support.

Demolition permits have been delayed to address St. Petersburg’s historic structure survey, but most agree that this is merely a formality and not likely to pose a significant delay.

Edwards said once permits are granted, demolition and construction will take 12 to 14 months. He predicted the design concept will change once tenants sign leases and influence the final look of an essentially new complex.

“Great vision, just wow,” council member Jeff Danner said. “Maybe it will start spurring other development around there as well.”

“We are all excited about what you’ve told us,” said Council member Leslie Curran. “I think what’s even better is that you and your team have gone out nationally to major developers or retail establishments and [strengthened] the message of what downtown St. Pete really is.”

Among other details that have yet to be revealed is the name of this new complex, but even with a new name and design, will St. Petersburg truly embrace and flock to the new incarnation?

Edwards noted that a lack of security was a primary cause of BayWalk’s demise. He said that the day following his acquisition of the property he tripled security personnel and added 32 cameras for safety. Edwards said, “[This] has increased the amount of people going to the theater. It’s just a safer place now.”

The fact remains that a redesign and extra security alone may not be enough to resurrect Baywalk from its past troubles. Plagued with a recent past of protests and racial stresses—a new design will not wash the stains away from the memories of patrons who found the scenes more than uncomfortable. What plans are being made to address the social issues that were at the root of BayWalk’s demise? No word is out on this answer yet. We’ll be listening and watching closely for an answer.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.