More than just gathering data, we're trying to capture elements that make each community distinctive.
St. Petersburg skyline [Photo: Dan Gaye]
|A Community Portrait of St. Petersburg/Clearwater
» Who Lives Here?
In the past 15 years, St. Petersburg, Florida’s fourth-largest city, has blossomed from a city struggling with its historical identity as a haven for middle-class retirees into a diverse, livable community with a vibrant downtown and arts scene.
A century-old decision by the city to buy up the downtown bayfront created a civic asset that’s proved invaluable in attracting residential and commercial development downtown, including condo towers and a shopping center with a Publix. Under former Mayor Rick Baker, the city welcomed downtown development and also moved aggressively and notably to redevelop the largely minority Midtown district and a former industrial district on the edge of downtown.
Hard economic times have stalled momentum behind a number of residential projects, and like every urban area St. Petersburg has struggled with problems such as homelessness. A downtown retail development called BayWalk is struggling, and the Grand Bohemian upscale hotel/condo project is on hold. City leaders are also wrestling with the issue of how to keep the Tampa Bay Rays, who want a new stadium, in the city.
St. Petersburg has been able to sustain its momentum, however, with private projects like a new $35-million home for the Dali Museum and a new $400-million All Children’s Hospital. The city’s core — including the signature historic Renaissance Vinoy Resort on the waterfront — remains healthy: Sales at Ovation, downtown’s most upscale condo high-rise, are strong. The University of South Florida’s campus in downtown St. Petersburg has added dorm and classroom space as it grows enrollment toward a 10,000-student goal. The restaurant scene is still lively, and concerts, festivals and other activities, including an annual Grand Prix racing event, are scheduled around the waterfront and elsewhere downtown on all but a few weekends during the year.
Fodor’s Travel Publications named Clearwater Beach one of the East Coast’s “7 Best Family Beaches.” [Photo: City of Clearwater]
Clearwater, the Pinellas County seat, is a suburban town of malls, neighborhoods and beaches. Statistics show Clearwater residents are slightly older and have a slightly higher median income than their counterparts in St. Petersburg.
The city’s largest company, computer reseller Tech Data, is the state’s biggest publicly traded company, employing some 2,500 locally and 8,000 internationally. Like St. Petersburg, Clearwater has invested in brownfields redevelopment projects and also streetscaping its small downtown, which is home to — and is dominated by — the spiritual headquarters of the Church of Scientology and its more than 1,400 uniformed employees. The church is the largest property owner downtown, and individual Scientologists own many local businesses. Scientology’s relationship with the city has improved, but some residents are still uneasy. Meanwhile, development at Clearwater Beach has slowed, but at least four big condo projects are still in various stages, along with the 250-room Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa set to open early this year. The resort is located along the Beach Walk revitalization project, a $30-million landscaped promenade meant to spur redevelopment of the southern portion of the beach.