In recent months a rundown mall at 4301 34th St. S. in St. Petersburg has become a vibrant new commercial center with an influx of vendors selling everything from jewelry and antiques to African fabrics and tattoos. There’s also a food court.
The explosion of activity has been fueled in part by the closing of two longstanding vintage centers – the 49er Flea Market in Pinellas Park and Memory Lane Antique Mall in St. Petersburg. As word of the new vintage hub has spread, buyers and sellers have started arriving from around the area and even from out of state, Skyway Marina Mall Manager Geary Walton said January 22.
Vendors looking for a new home have swelled the mall’s tenants from five last summer to around 80 today, with another 30 on the waiting list, Walton said. An outdoor flea market is also starting to take shape Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the parking lot, which also hosts special events.
The mall’s revitalization is good news for the Skyway Marina District, a 1.5-mile section of 34th Street South between 54th and 30th avenues slated for redevelopment. Since 2014 the city of St. Petersburg has pushed to attract new businesses to the span along with investors to redevelop three large parcels – the former Home Depot and Kmart sites and the Skyway Marina Mall property.
In its heyday, the 262,000-square-foot mall was a center of the South St. Pete community, with anchors such as Kash n’ Karry and Sears. As it fell into disrepair over the years, myriad tenants came and went, including a go-cart track, a dinner theater and most recently, a flea market.
Improvements have been stymied by the division of the mall into three sections with two different owners – one in California, the other in Tampa – neither of whom wants to invest in improvements. As recently as June the roof in the vintage mall was leaking and parts of the ceiling had collapsed. Much of the plumbing didn’t work, part of the electricity was shorted out and it was filled with trash.
“This was almost condemned four times,” said Walton, who previously rented space in the mall as Geary’s Furniture Finders. When the owners offered him the job of managing the 85,000 square feet that house the vintage mall, he agreed on condition that he be allowed to reinvest all the earnings in improvements. Since June he has spent about $100,000 in repairs, with more slated as revenues continue to increase.
Among the vintage mall’s first new tenants was Michael Bonaddio, who, with his partner Brian Smith, owns Round Again Resale. Formerly an antique vendor who traveled from flea market to flea market, Bonaddio signed up to rent space last May, when “it was still raining” inside.
“I took a big chance here,” said Bonaddio, who is now the mall’s assistant manager. “I went home and cried after I signed the contract. Now I’m so grateful.”
Business has been so good that he and Smith have been able to expand their store from 500 sq. ft. to 1,000 sq. ft. in a choice spot near the entrance, he said.
Another early tenant was Bruce McWilliams, co-owner of Brea’s Coffee with his wife Andrea; they opened in September. They also were mobile in the past, traveling from event to event to set up their coffee tent.
With the new management, McWilliams said, “it seemed like a very exciting time” to settle down in the mall. “It just seemed like a good fit. … I knew this area was coming up.”
Brea’s Coffee offers a variety of coffee, tea, hot chocolate and breakfast items made by local resident Wanda Stuart. With 3,000 square feet and plenty of tables, it’s also a space where people are welcome to hang out or to hold special events such as birthday parties or work meetings, said McWilliams, whose goal is to make it a community meeting place. There is free wi-fi, two large televisions with news and sports, and a movie screen for special showings.
Although the city is happy to see part of the property used as a vintage mall, its ultimate goal is to have a developer turn it into mixed residential, retail and restaurant space, said Gary Jones, senior planner with the city’s Economic Development Division and project manager for the Skyway Marina District. Most likely that will involve tearing down the entire structure and replacing it with new construction.
“It needs to come under one ownership and that’s what we’re striving for – one ownership to take it on and redevelop the site,” Jones said January 26. “The city is for the businesses and what they’re doing and the flea market succeeding. But in the end there will probably need to be redevelopment of the site in order to make it more viable.”
At the moment, he said, no such developer is on the horizon.
As for the other two large parcels, Tampa-based Phillips Development & Realty continues to move ahead with plans to complete 300 apartments and retail and restaurant space the former Home Depot site by 2020, he said.
“There’s a lot of interest in the former Kmart,” Jones said. “Nothing that I can report on at this time. We’re hopeful that a developer will have the site under contract soon, but until it actually happens, it’s speculative.”
For more information visit skywaymarinamall.com and skywaymarinadistrict.org.
Coming soon: Let there be Light
Over the next several months the Skyway Marina District will be getting new lights and banners that will make the area more pedestrian friendly and create the biggest change in its appearance to date.
Duke Energy is slated to install 147 new lights along both sides of 34th Street South that will light up the sidewalks, make the thoroughfare look safer, and encourage people to spend time in the area, said Gary Jones of the city of St. Petersburg’s Economic Development Division. Once the light posts are up, banners will be installed with the Skyway Marina District’s logo and the words “shopping,” “sunsets,” “sailing” or “sunshine.”
The lights and banners are the most recent development in the public infrastructure of the sector, which aims to create a specific identity. Improvements to date include gateway signs at the sector’s borders and new landscaping in the center median.
“It’s going to be the biggest impact of any public improvement project that we do in the area,” Jones said. “The more we improve the public realm in the district, the more confidence we give the private market” to invest.