Urban Land Institute: Protect downtown waterfront, promote ‘Innovation District’

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An Urban Land Institute panel finished a week-long visit Friday to St. Petersurg by issuing recommendations for improving, protecting and growing downtown.

The panel of eight urban-land use experts offered a comprehensive list of “responsible land use” ideas. But the members also seemed smitten by the amenities and quality of life downtown has to offer.

“I must say I was shocked by how nice it is here,” said Richard Reinhard of the Urban Land Institute. The members said they biked, walked and drove through the downtown area each day and night.

Members said they would have kayaked along the waterfront, if there were facilities to allow for that (one of the group’s recommendations).

The panel members concluded that St. Petersburg has the amenities, sense of community – and most importantly – a publicly protected waterfront that sets it apart from most U.S. cities.

The group said that St. Pete is poised to become a “world-class city,” as more people move out of the suburbs and into urban areas for greater access to shops, mass transportation as well as jobs and education.

The group offered a clear, and easy-to-understand blueprint for the city, with recommendations that included:

  • Protect the public waterfront parks from private development.
  • Create a waterfront conservancy to help ensure the city’s waterfront and its beaches stay pristine, attractive and accessible.
  • Develop an Innovation District that recognizes the economic powerhouse that the downtown’s south side has become with the University of South Florida-St Pete, the marine science complexes and the hospitals and medical facilities. Grow the force of knowledge workers.
  • Support USF-SP in its efforts to establish and grow student housing downtown.
  • Focus on the traditional downtown core as well as the downtown waterfront district. They are interdependent, with the success of one dependent on the other.
  • Find more opportunities to install public art and to promote the arts district.
  • Support local and regional mass transportation. Communities with strong mass transportation do better economically.
  • Improve access to and the quality of parks along Bayshore Drive, which is an under-utilized area.
  • Redevelop Al Lang Stadium as a multi-use field.
  • Foster the creation of public-private partnerships, including a downtown development corporation.
  • Encourage better use of the waterfront by creating areas to put kayaks in the water. Replenish beaches.
  • Redevelop the Pier and return it to its historical use. End parking along the pier. Turn the parking lot next to the Pier approach into green space with activities for families.

The panel also encouraged the Council to consider a different way of managing the challenges and opportunities before the city. The panel encouraged transparency, greater citizen involvement and forming public-private partnerships to take the lead in implementing plans.