Anchored by Tropicana Field and powered by local businesses, the district is bustling with shops, restaurants and nightlife.
BY JENNIFER AKERS
LIVE LOCAL! CONTRIBUTOR
St. Petersburg’s Edge district is booming with dining, shopping and entertainment. From trendy apartments like the Fusion and 1010 Central to hotspots like Green Bench Brewery and Red Mesa Mercado, the district is a bustling hub of commerce and community.
But it wasn’t always like that.
For much of its history, starting in the 1920s, the seven-city block area now known as the Edge was mostly a thoroughfare to another destination. The district, which runs along Central, First Ave N and First Ave S from Dr. MLK Jr. Street to 16th Street, was a way for locals and tourists to get to downtown St. Petersburg businesses, museums, the waterfront. The district was dotted with garages and gas stations. It was an industrial hub, rather than a community.
In 1998, there was renewed interest in the Edge as the district’s Suncoast Dome, now Tropicana Field, become home to the Devil Rays (renamed the Rays after the 2007 season). But while the baseball team didn’t transform the then-neglected area, it did put the Edge on the map. And for some businesses, it was a definite boost. Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill, which Mark Ferguson had opened six years earlier in an old gas station in 1992, quickly became a Rays fan favorite. The restaurant has hosted 17,000 people on Rays’ Opening Days and more than 30,000 fans for the World Series.
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As St. Petersburg as a whole started seeing a big revival, the Edge district, too, saw much development in the past five years or so. The district is busy preserving, rebuilding and expanding. It’s transforming itself into a destination.
“The wave of downtown renewal has hit the Edge district,” says St. Petersburg Councilman Karl Nurse, whose district includes the Edge. “Each month sees another building or business blossom.”
That wave of more than 100 locally owned businesses showcases an interesting variety of retail, restaurants and bars, boutiques, art galleries, health centers and other businesses. But if you’re walking or driving down Central Avenue, you can still see some of the historic remnants, such as train track pieces along Central Avenue and 1st Ave S. The train used to run just east of what’s now Furnish Me Vintage (1246 Central), which then was a barn house stop for unloading livestock with chickens lining the rooftop. Baum Avenue, which goes from MLK to 13th Street, was initially developed before Central Avenue. Later with Central Avenue’s development, the two streets became a hub for lumber yards, automotive shops, garages, painting supplies, and other industrial businesses. The long-ago Miller Tire Brothers garage is now home to Green Bench.
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The Edge district is now buzzing with businesses including boutiques Magnolia Lane, Ashe Couture, Designers’ Consigner and plain jane; specialty shops Milagros, Mis en Chic, Furnish Me Vintage, McB’s Men’s Clothing, C-Ride SUP Board Shop and Paper Street Market; service centers Peace of Yoga and The Peaceful Warrior Massage, galleries and arts centers including Pinot’s Palette, Sketch and Sip and ARTicles.
And of course, the bars and restaurants including Genaro Coffee, Bodega, Kings Street, Pizza Box, Hawkers, Enigma, Edge of 9, Ricky P’s Orleans Bistro, Brooklyn South, Cafe 1001, Red Mesa Mercado, Chiang Mai Thai, Amsterdam, Ferg’s, the Bends, Blue Goose and Green Bench.
The district is also home to two of St. Petersburg’s most active nonprofits: Creative Clay (1114 Central), which helps make arts accessible to all, despite disabilities; and CASA (1011 First Ave N), which offers shelter and services for survivors of domestic violence.
The Edge was the perfect fit for Rick Shook, who moved his business from 30th Street N in St. Petersburg to the Edge district in 2013. His original business was more about repair services, and when he decided to shift the focus more into retail and installations, being near all the development made the most sense.
“My business is dependent on real estate,” says Shook, owner of Rick’s Home Theatre Store, 1128 Central Ave. “Being close to the condos and apartments downtown, we provide home entertainment systems and services to that population.”
Shook, now member of the Edge board of directors, predicts the area to grow more because the district fosters collaborations between business owners, property owners, residents and city officials. “The Edge has a voice,” he says. “We get to sit down with city leaders.”
Another entrepreneur, Scott Roberts, wasn’t specifically looking in the Edge when scouring locations in 2011, but when he found the space at 19 Dr. MLK Jr. St S, it was the right fit for his business, The Peaceful Warrior Massage: easily accessible from the Interstate, near downtown, affordable rent.
“The district as a whole seems to have improved in the quality of businesses that have come in recently. Newer restaurants and bars have given the residents of St. Petersburg some really nice options without the hassle of Beach Drive,” says Roberts, who owns the business with his wife, Lena, and hopes to open a second location in the future.
1010 Central resident Andrea Strychalski moved to the Edge to open a quilt shop in its mixed-use real estate in December 2015. “It’s a nice location, centrally located,” says Strychalski, owner of Flip Flop Quilt Shop at 1010 Central Ave. “It’s so walkable. I can walk downtown, a mile away.”
And while her customers are used to driving long distances for fabrics, Strychalski says they love that while there they can explore local restaurants, boutiques and community events.
“It’s exciting to be here,” she says. “Every building has plans for future things coming.”
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The district got a major boost in 2014, when the Edge Business District Association succeeded in getting the district designated a Main Street through the Florida Main Street program, which provides resources to help rebuild the community’s identity and stimulate economic growth, while preventing city sprawl and preserving historic aesthetics.
The Edge Main Street works with business owners, property owners, residents and visitors. The collaboration is crucial to the district’s success of economic development and preservation, says Barbara Voglewede, Edge District executive director and Main Street manager.
“We have a culture of community celebration,” she says.
The community network encompasses the microcosm of the Edge, its neighboring Main Streets Grand Central and Deuces Live, and the city of St. Petersburg. The combined effort can be seen through community cleanups, increased resident and visitor safety, community events like the Bacon Battle or Holiday Magic, and business-oriented events coordinated with The Greenhouse, which offers resources and programs to business owners.
As part of the Main Street program, consultants are designing a Master Plan to preserve the district’s history and offer strategies for development. A survey of existing buildings is under way, and depending on its results, the district may apply for a historical designation for specific buildings or the district as a whole.
“Because this district is thriving right now, it’s imperative that we get a snapshot of who we are before it changes too much,” Voglewede says. “We need to preserve our eclectic history.”
One of the district’s priorities lies within the Edge History project, which pieces together the area’s history. A complete documented collection doesn’t exist yet, but the project will benefit both the Edge itself and St. Petersburg.
The district is in a balancing act of preserving and renovating its rich heritage, increasing economic growth, and expanding in a valuable way to residents both within the district and the city.
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Projects could involve redevelopment, such as the previous police station property and other areas between Baum and 1st Avenue N. The district is pursuing plans to increase parking; create a safe, bike- and pedestrian-friendly atmosphere; and boost economic growth within businesses and development of more mixed-use residences.
Much of the development talk centers around Tropicana Field. In January 2016, City Council gave the Rays permission to search for other stadium locations in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The three-year deadline came packaged with a big incentive, a redevelopment revenue agreement between the city and the team. If the Rays stay in Pinellas, redevelopment revenue will be shared equally by both sides. If the Rays leave, they forfeit their half.
Meanwhile, the city is looking at developers’ bids to re-design the 85-acre Tropicana site with and without a ballpark. The master plan will include a new stadium, parking, residential and retail development.
But the city isn’t ready to give up on the Rays. In February the city partnered with the St. Petersburg Chamber to launch Baseball Forever, a campaign designed to showcase St. Petersburg as the best home for the Rays.
Eddie Peters, Ferg’s marketing manager, says he doesn’t expect the Rays to leave the area.
“We’re working to keep them in St. Pete, for building a stadium for them, and for economic growth that will benefit the city and the Rays,” he says.
But if they were to leave?
“We have 81 days where we’re busier because of Rays’ (home games), but we do very well the other days too,” Peters says.
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Whether the Rays stay and go, one thing is certain: Big changes are coming and in the next six months, says the district’s Voglewede, the Edge won’t look the same as today.
“I am excited about what is happening in St. Petersburg’s Edge District,” Mayor Rick Kriseman says. “The area, like our city, is growing in new and exciting ways. I am looking forward to what’s in store for the Edge district and our city.”
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