We had no idea.
Back in 2021, when my husband and I were selling our house in west St. Pete and looking for an apartment elsewhere in the city, we didn’t know much about the Skyway Marina District.
We’d heard about the rebranding of the area, a 1.5-mile stretch of 34th Street (U.S. 19) between 30th and 54th Avenues South, including some businesses and neighborhoods to the west. But we mostly knew it for its long-gone gay resorts: The Suncoast, demolished in 2007 for a Home Depot that never materialized; and the Flamingo, which opened in 2009. That was demolished in 2019, to be replaced by…
Our new home.
Skyway Marina District
Yup, these two old gays wound up moving into Marina Walk, the apartment complex that rose from the ashes of The Flamingo. Eight stories and 245 units, painted a blazing white, it was an inescapable sign that something new was happening in the neighborhood.
Two other big apartment projects also opened in 2021: Sur Club and Addison Skyway Marina. It was evidence that the Skyway Marina District, in the works since 2013, was finally becoming… a district.
I don’t think we were alone in being surprised. We’d never even known there was a marina in the area, let alone one you could walk to. We’d never realized that tony enclaves like Broadwater and Maximo Moorings were just a block or two away.
Like many who’d traveled down 34th Street South headed to the interstate or the beaches, we’d thought fast-food franchises and no-tell motels told the whole story.
But no, there are many stories in this still-growing section of St. Pete — not the least of which are the visionaries who saw the potential here more than a decade ago.
“Then and Now” Ride Along
A ride-along with Jack Dougherty through the Skyway Marina District is like paging through one of those “Then and Now” books.
“That was a Bob Evans.” (The new Mavis Tires & Brakes at 4900 34th St. S.)
“This was a Ponderosa.” (The new SkyWay Lofts, 3900 34th St. S.)
“The Addison was an old Kmart.” (Addison Skyway Marina, 3951 34th St. S.)
“That used to be a car wash.” (The new Zaxby’s, 3700 34th St. S.)
“This used to be a Ramada Inn.” (Grand Villa, now La Orilla, assisted living community, 3600 34th St. S.)
“This is where Suncoast Resort used to be.” (Sur Club, 3601 32nd St. S.)
Dougherty is the owner of Marina Walk (and of the Flamingo Resort before that).
In 2022, he bought the 112,000-square-foot Maximo Mall and adjacent properties north of Marina Walk. His 400-unit Marina Club apartments are now under construction there. The new 747-unit Public Storage franchise and Fifth Third Bank branch, both adjacent to Marina Club, are already open.
Dougherty says that a well-known restaurant is going to be built next to the bank, but he’s not revealing any more info except to say, “People are really going to be excited.”
But not that long ago, when Dougherty was president of the Skyway Marina Business Association, few shared his dreams of new restaurants, retail, and apartment complexes.
As recently as 2016, he’d drive bankers past the expensive homes and picturesque inlets of Broadwater to prove that people with good incomes weren’t afraid to live in the area. But 34th Street South, “where they saw so much that was vacant, so much that was run down,” always killed their interest.
The City leaders who shared a vision for the Skyway Marina District also had to face down the doubters.
“People were kind of ignorant about what was out there,” remembers former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. “It was an area you just drove through, you certainly didn’t want to stop in. We had to change people’s perception.”
Former City Councilmember Steve Kornell agrees. He recalls one potential developer telling him, “What you’re thinking is going to happen in the area is not going to happen for 20 or 30 years.”
Rebuilding the Neighborhood
But the believers persisted, among them local residents, business leaders, and the City’s Planning and Economic Development Department. In March 2013, a crowd of 250 attended a kickoff meeting at the SPC Allstate Center (a former insurance headquarters that’s now a training center for public safety). After that, says Kornell, “everything just clicked.”
“We really paid attention and pushed and prodded for the things we wanted to see out there,” says Kriseman.
A steering committee formed, community meetings held, and, in May 2014, City planners issued The Skyway Marina District Plan.
Nearly 100 pages of recommendations, maps, charts, and budgets, it laid down a vision for a “destination district” with three overarching goals: “One: Improve the retail experience; two: Create more redevelopment opportunities; and three: Increase the profits of businesses.”
Later that year, during Mayor Kriseman’s first term, City Council approved the plan, and the City sweetened the pot by offering a $1 million incentive for “to the first qualified, mixed-use project,” reported the Tampa Bay Times, “and an incentive of $50,000 for a 5,000-square-foot restaurant.”
It would take a while before anyone snapped up those incentives.
Fresh and New
Misty Bottorf joined the Skyway Marina District Association as executive director — the volunteer group’s only paid position — seven years ago.
“When it was still so fresh and new,” she says.
Or to put it another way, when nothing much was happening.
Publix had demolished its dated supermarket and built a shiny new replacement at the old Bay Pointe Plaza shopping center. Maximo Marina was undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation. But, as City officials and Dougherty had already been finding out, the area remained a hard sell for investors and developers.
Dougherty eventually found a bank, Mutual of Omaha, that was willing to take a chance on the area and enabled him to proceed with Marina Walk. But he wasn’t the first developer to submit a site plan. That was Donald Phillips, the managing director of Tampa-based Phillips Development & Realty, who got approval in 2017 to build the $75 million, 296-apartment Sur Club — the one whose storage facility sports the dynamic 55-foot mural visible from I-275.
Various delays over the next few years meant that Sur Club didn’t get built until 2021, the same year as Marina Walk and Addison Skyway. But, as the first to jump in with “a qualified, mixed-use project,” Phillips was awarded the coveted $1 million incentive.
Well, the biggest news of late is what’s happening to the sprawling 34-acre office campus that once housed the workforce management company Ceridian at 3201 34th St. S. The Miami-based developer Altis Cardinal purchased the campus in 2021, and won approval for its $500 million mixed-use Skyway Village project in a hearing before the City’s Development Review Commission earlier this month. Dougherty sold part of his property, north of Marina Walk, to Orange Belt Holdings, which plans to build an upscale senior living community, The Manhattan.
And we’re getting a Craft Kafe! The gluten-free bakery and restaurant, which already has popular outposts in West St. Pete and downtown Pete, is opening a new branch in Marina Village.
These two old gays can walk to it.
Coming up in future columns:
• There used to be a bowling alley. And a movie theater. Longtime residents remember the way it was.
• What the heck is going up in the space in front of Sur Club?
• Is the XTC Adult Supercenter a permanent fixture, or will its owner ever sell?
I invite the denizens of the district and other interested parties to share their questions, memories, and juicy anecdotes about the Skyway Marina District. As Frank Guerra, the principal and founder of Altis Cardinal, told the St. Pete Catalyst, “We see the Skyway Marina District as the next city center. This development will be the most exciting corner of St. Pete.”
Why not join the fun?