April 24, 2014

Creative Solution to St. Pete's Redevelopment

Art Levy | 3/1/2010
Crislip Arcade The city persuaded investor Thomas Gaffney to lease space at the 600 block of Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg to artists at reduced rates.

In the 1920s, St. Petersburg’s downtown core featured 10 mall-like arcades where shoppers could get out of the sun and rain and browse storefronts beneath skylights and ornate chandeliers. Only a few of the arcades are left. Two years ago, the historic Crislip Arcade on Central Avenue was slated for demolition, to be replaced by a 15-story mixed-use development. When the housing bust killed the project, the arcade was left standing, but with no tenants. Deteriorating, it became a gathering place for homeless people.

In 2008, Thomas Gaffney, a local investor, purchased the arcade and much of the rest of the block for $2.3 million. "I’m a long-term investor," Gaffney says. "I buy land and hold it for years and years and years, and hopefully someday I sell it and make some money on it."

Thomas Gaffney
Thomas Gaffney

When city officials learned of Gaffney’s intention to demolish or board up his part of the block, they urged him to do something, anything, to improve the property. City Council Chair Leslie Curran hoped he would allow artists to fix up and work in the abandoned storefronts, at least until the real estate market improved.

Second-guessing himself at times, Gaffney went along with the idea but decided to pay for the renovations himself. "I did it because the city, I felt, needed a boost, and I have the money to do it," he says.

Now he has 26 storefronts leased —?eight within the arcade and 18 along Central — to artists or art-related businesses for up to five years at $8 a square foot, less than half of comparable rates along Central. Given what he has spent on the renovations — a figure he won’t reveal because he doesn’t want people to think he’s "completely crazy" — Gaffney says he has no expectations of making a profit for now.

"It’s not that big of a deal to me if I sell the land or not," he says. "If the arts district doesn’t work, if the people are struggling in five years, then I sell it. But if it works for them, I’m happy to keep doing it."

Tags: Southwest

Digital Access

DIRECT DIGITAL ACCESS
Add digital to your current subscription, purchase a single ditgital issue, or start a new subscription to Florida Trend.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
An overview of the features and articles in this month's issue of Florida Trend.

ACCESS THIS ISSUE »

Florida Business News

Florida Trend Video Pick

Water is the instrument at Florida Orchestra concerts
Water is the instrument at Florida Orchestra concerts

Florida Orchestra Percussionist John Shaw and his water basin will be center stage for the Tan Dun Water Concerto, a unique production of light and sound being performed by the Florida Orchestra.

Earlier Videos | Viewpoints@FloridaTrend

Ballot Box

How quickly must we act to protect Florida's dying springs?

  • Immediately - Florida's House and Senate must pass SB 1576
  • Not a priority - issue can be postponed
  • This shouldn't even be on the agenda

See Results

Ballot Box
Subscribe