Stormwater and drainage improvements have remained a priority in the CRD due to the historic impact of repetitive ponding and flooding on residential and commercial properties and on roadways. The Park Boulevard Drainage Improvements Project, a multi-year, multi-phased project, leveraged federal funding to address this issue comprehensively, with the CRA supporting specific segments located within and impacting drainage within the CRD. The importance of this project to the success of CRA redevelopment efforts is immeasurable.
During 2015-2016, work continued on Park Boulevard Phase IV Drainage Improvements for the Garnett and North Disston Subdivisions. The segment of the project supported by the CRA will improve drainage in a 40-acre area extending from 46th Street to 49th Street between 82nd and 86th Avenues.
Additional improvements in CRD infrastructure made during 2015-2016 include continuing landscaping improvements throughout the CRA to improve the visual appeal of heavily trafficked roadways and public facilities. During the current reporting year, landscaping efforts focused on lighting improvements and vegetation replacement in green space and parking areas surrounding the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library. The CRA Sidewalk Program implemented in previous years was not funded in 2015-2016, but will resume in 2016-2017 to add new pedestrian access and safety features within the District.
COMMUNITY FACILITIES AND EVENTS
The Community Redevelopment District boasts numerous facilities for events that bring a steady stream of people to the downtown area and generate interest in the District. England Brothers Park has long served as a popular location for large concerts and community and regional events such as the city’s iconic Country in the Park Festival and Firefighters’ Chili Blaze, while community organizations regularly hold events such as the annual Pinellas Country Fair, Beta Sigma Phi Easter Egg Hunt, Hmong New Year, and Laotian Festival.
Continuing improvements to the adjacent Performing Arts Center have expanded available capacity and opportunities for public events. During 2015-2016, the CRA supported additional enhancements to the City’s Performing Arts Center, increasingly a venue for arts and cultural events as well as community gatherings and private rentals. Improvements included upgrades to lighting and sound equipment, replacement of obsolete furnishings and carpet, and complete interior repainting. These enhancements have contributed to the ability of the community’s Performing Arts Center to offer a popular tribute concert series that now routinely boasts sold-out shows, as well as regular performances by the Matinee Opera Players and special events by the Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber of Commerce, Boys and Girls Clubs, and youth sports organizations.
The City’s historic downtown, long the starting point for the popular annual Holiday Parade, increasingly provides opportunities for small business development (see more below). The concentration of public facilities such as Park Station, the City Auditorium, Police Station, Senior Recreation Center, Shuffleboard Courts, and Senior Fitness Center on 58th Street make it a major activity hub for the City, and provide parking for evening and weekend events.
Park Station is particularly important in hosting a wide array of community meetings and events, and provides office, work, meeting, and event space to both the Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber of Commerce and the nonprofit Pinellas Park Art Society. During 2015-2016, the facility hosted a visiting small business assistance program available through Pinellas County, and hosted arts business trainings and grant workshops offered by local arts agency Creative Pinellas. Park Station also became a destination for the monthly Fourth Saturday Art Walk, opening for new evening hours to host artist demonstrations and shows by the Pinellas Art Society.
SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT AND THE ARTS
The Better Block project initiated in 2015 culminated in October with a two-day event that invited the community to envision a new arts district in the historic core of the City at the center of the CRA. The event, staged within the 5600-5800 Blocks of Park Boulevard, brought residents, businesses, developers, planners, and community groups together design a walkable area filled with arts, retail and entertainment destinations, and to work together to build their vision for a single weekend ‘pop-up’ event. City staff and volunteers worked during the ensuing months to plan storage-container art galleries, a collaborative art exhibit in a storefront shell in the 5600 Block, a hay bale amphitheater and stage with continuous performances, and pedestrian amenities. The event launched permanent changes in the area, now the city’s arts district.
Immediately after Better Block, the CRA reprogrammed the Pinellas Park Office Suites at 5663 Park Blvd., which had operated 2012-2015 as a small business incubator providing below-market rate office space to new entrepreneurs for up to three years. The facility was remodeled to serve as affordable artist studios to foster emerging artists and help to anchor the new arts district forming in the area. The Studios at 5663 began leasing in January 2016, in May becoming a focal point for a new Fourth Saturday Art Walk.
The Studios at 5663 joined other arts incubators established in 2013 with Pompei Studios at 5681 Park Blvd., and in 2015 with Swartz Gallery at 5609 Park. In 2015-2016, the CRA renovated an additional property, 5725 Park Blvd., now leased to Painting with a Twist. These new attractors have greatly increased visits to the district, which benefits from the newly renovated 5600 Block parking completed during the current reporting year.
The United Cottages Neighborhood, in the 5700 Block north of Park Boulevard, is the focus of an ongoing cooperative revitalization effort by United Cottages Corporation (a subdivision of cottages located on 75th Terrace) and the CRA. The area was rezoned in 2011 as a mixed-use district with the hope that businesses might invest in a downtown, “live-work” location. A development agreement allows reduced setback and yard requirements to allow cottages to occupy more square footage on small lots. The Agreement also allows residential units as small as 308 square feet, permits live/work units, and waives parking space requirements for individual units.
The CRA continued in 2015-2016 to purchase property and remove blighted structures in the neighborhood. In their place, property owners are allowed to construct new cottage-style housing and live-work units. Two model units and public parking constructed by the CRA enhance the growing arts district. In 2015, the CRA partnered with a private developer to construct a modern two-story artist live-work unit at 5705 Park Blvd. adjacent to the Cottages. Recruitment for the new unit and for the existing cottages was linked to the new arts district, bringing The Complete Sweet Shoppe and the Wordier Than Thou event space and bookstore to the area.
Construction of the new artist live-work unit was substantially completed at the end of 2015-2016 and the resident artist selected for the facility. This facility, Donnelly COVE, fronts Park Boulevard with a public breezeway connecting the Cottages District with the Park Boulevard commercial corridor, further stimulating the development of innovative mixed use housing and commercial uses in this neighborhood. The COVE gallery brings artists from around the region to show their work, while the neighborhood.
THE COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT DISTRICT POLICING UNIT
The Community Redevelopment Policing Unit (CRPU) was established in 2010, with offices located within the CRD at 6990 49th Street North. The unit is responsible not only for reducing crime, but also for educating, building trust within the community, and assisting in identifying the social issues and blighted areas of the CRD that require attention. In addition to their emergency response duties, its officers are required to complete state certification as Crime Prevention Practitioners, and host the Homeless Street Outreach Program to link area homeless with shelter and services.
During 2015-2016, the CPRU officers made a total of 12,785 self-initiated contacts with residents and businesses. The unit has also organized Neighborhood Crime Watch units throughout the District, working closely with residents to monitor and address safety conditions as well as supporting more than 108 Neighborhood Watch meetings and events during the year. Regular ‘Coffee with a Cop’ events hosted by area businesses provide yet another opportunity to hear directly from the community.
One of the Unit’s priorities is the continued safety of the Shoppes at Park Place. The popularity of this retail and entertainment center continues to grow, due in no small part to regular patrols by the CRPU with participation by the Police Mounted Unit. The CRPU organizes and co-hosts numerous community events each year, one of the largest being its National Night Out event at the Shoppes at Park Place, with participation by numerous community organizations and businesses.
The unit also participates actively in the Homeless Street Outreach Project to provide assistance and long-term solutions for homeless individuals and families encountered within the CRD. These resources are available through cooperative relationships established by and with the Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Board, which receives annual support from the Pinellas Park CRA as well the City due to its critical importance within the CRD. During 2015-2016, the unit made over 1,000 contacts with homeless individuals, 266 of which received services and were successfully placed in a shelter.
The CRPU station within the CRD has become a welcome center within the community. Its officers, however, are typically seen out in the community, visiting residents and businesses and attending meetings, grand openings, and community events. Their constant presence and accessibility has gained trust, forged relationships, and helped to create the strong partnership that now exists between residents, business owners, and the police department. The unit is represented at meetings of the CRA Board, where their on-the-ground presence offers valuable insights and information to inform policy.
BUSINESS GROWTH AND COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT
The Community Redevelopment District (CRD) offers multiple opportunities for retail, entertainment, hotel, mixed-use, and residential redevelopment. Both the City and the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) have made major investments in infrastructure and streetscape projects, increasing the area’s attractiveness for new construction, renovation, and adaptive re-use of existing facilities. The CRD’s high visibility for businesses and easy accessibility for residents have encouraged an increasing rate of redevelopment in this district in recent years, particularly in the area near the Shoppes at Park Place.
Businesses locating in the CRD benefit from zoning and land use provisions that include the ability to develop mixed uses, provisions for density bonuses and affordable housing, and reduced Transportation Impact Fees. During 2015-2016, 76 new businesses were established in the CRD, bringing the total of registered businesses to 723. Seven of these new businesses were registered in the growing arts district.
CRA COMMERCIAL FACADE GRANTS
For both new and existing businesses, a CRA Façade Grants program offers matching funds for improvements made to building street frontages. The Façade Grant program supports rehabilitation of independently owned small businesses and apartment complexes serving low to moderate income households. Matching grants of up to $10,000 are provided for façade improvements for one street frontage, with up to an additional $5,000 available for structures with a secondary frontage. Grant funds may be used to improve entryways, including accessibility; windows; awnings and canopies; exterior finishes; landscaping; sidewalks; exterior lighting; and public amenities such as benches, bicycle racks, and public art.
Initiated in Fiscal Year 2014-2015, the program gained momentum in FY 2015-2016. During the current reporting year, grants were approved for new façade signage for a large fitness center located on 49th Street at Park Boulevard and a model train store near the intersection of Park Boulevard and 49th Street, and for extensive façade renovation for a dental office located directly on Park Boulevard with a secondary street frontage. Completed renovations offer a highly visible testimony to the success of this program, and increased participation is expected for the third year of the program.
Residential development within the CRD was limited during 2015-2016, with a small number of residential infill permits issued. Among the year’s highlights was the opening of the Parkside Commons Apartments, designed to offer economically accessible and conveniently located housing to students and faculty at the adjacent Health Center campus of St. Petersburg College. Located directly on Park Boulevard with easy access to PSTA bus lines, the Commons offers 2-4 bedroom apartments with multiple amenities, with rents starting at $725.00 for a two-bedroom, 953 square foot apartment. The development was fully leased at the time of its grand opening.
CRA HOMEOWNER IMPROVEMENT GRANTS
Like the CRA Façade Grant program, the CRA Homeowner Improvement Grants program offers matching grant funds to homeowners for rehabilitation. Eligible homeowners who meet income requirements and demonstrate need may apply to receive a matching reimbursement grant of $500 to $5,000 for eligible projects. These include roof repairs; entryway and window repairs improvements; landscaping and tree removal; and weatherization and energy efficiency improvements. Priority is granted to emergency repairs, code violations, and modifications for ADA accessibility.
Unlike a similar program available to homeowners outside the CRA, the grant program has been slow to attract attention within the District. A single home improvement grant was approved during 2015-2016, continuing into FY 2016-2017. Marketing efforts through the CRA website, CRA Neighborhood Watch Groups, and other outreach channels will continue in the coming year.