“This is intended to be a celebration of the vision,” Susan Harding said when of the Baker Group’s vision for Corey. The Baker Group stressed approving the vision didn’t mean the city would commit to a traffic couplet.
Downtown Corey may not get a traffic couplet to slow and redirect traffic, but if the St. Pete Beach Commission approves a vision presented by Michael J. Baker, Jr., Inc. (the Baker Group), the whole of Corey Avenue could receive a facelift that includes extra touches like sea glass in the sidewalks and native landscaping.
Last September, St. Pete Beach commission asked Michael Baker Jr., Inc. (Baker Group) to create a vision for the Downtown Corey District, which it presented Tuesday, June 24.
Baker Group representatives Susan Harding and Gerald Dabkowski presented the vision to the commission. Harding said the plan attempted to address the vision for entire area rather than one street “and how might that all work together.”
To create the vision, Baker Group walked the district, asked stakeholders to take polls based on visual aids, and held workshops. Harding told the commission the people with whom they spoke saw visions of a Corey district that could be described as safe, colorful, mixed use, diverse, upscale, relaxed and walkable, among others.
Harding said the Baker Group used these concepts to guide the final version of the vision they presented to the commission. She suggested the commission should regard the vision as a guide, not a playbook.
“It’s really just about laying the foundation and the groundwork; not everything you see will come to fruition,” she said, adding it wasn’t uncommon to see half the parts of such vision put into practice.
“We don’t want people or a developer to look at it and think there’s only one way to develop a site,” she said. “Hopefully what they do will be inspired by the vision plan.”
The vision includes pedestrian enhancements, some of which require the traffic couplet, a set of one-way streets designed to decrease speed and increase visibility for the district, although Harding and Dabkowski assured the commission the vision included more than the couplet and could work with or without the couplet.
Other design ideas include more areas for public parking, alley enhancements to make alleys a safe place for pedestrians and cars alike, right-of-way parking, sea glass in the sidewalk, shaded bus stops, street furniture and cycle tracks. The cycle tracks would allow for a bike lane between pedestrians and cars, with landscaping on either side of the track.
Terri Finnerty, the District One Commissioner whose district includes Corey Avenue, stressed her concerns for pedestrian safety.
“There are some safety enhancements that can be done in the near future,” Dabkowski said.
Rick Falkenstein, the District Two Commissioner, told the commission he was “totally against” the couplet, citing harm to seafood restaurant PJ’s as well as additional traffic through some of the neighborhoods he represents. Falkenstein offered his support for all other parts of the vision.
Harding, who assured council she wasn’t trying to sway them on the couplet, cautioned against sacrificing the vision to garner drive-by business.
“You don’t necessarily want your businesses to be successful because they’re getting drive-by traffic,” she said. “If you’re truly creating a downtown, it’s because you want people to come to your downtown and discover it.”
Harding added the vision “really looked at creating a ‘there, there.’”
Mayor Maria Lowe asked if it was feasible to adopt other aspects without adopting the couplet; Dabkowski and Harding alike assured her it was. Dabkowski also offered to meet with Public Works Director Steve Hallock and the Florida Department of Transportation to review safety issues and push the state to perform a safety review of the dogleg intersection at 75th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard.
“There’s a lot of things I think you can really do … from a safety perspective,” he said.
When District Four Commissioner Melinda Pletcher made the comment “nobody likes it,” about the couplet, Lowe asked Finnerty what feedback she’d heard.
“I can have 50 people call me one week and say I hate this couplet and fifty people call me the next and say I love it,” Finnerty said.
“You can still adamantly oppose the couplet but support the vision,” Lowe told Falkenstein, reminding everyone in attendance the city had not put the couplet in its long-range plans.
“It’s only on paper until we put it as a CIP [capital improvement project] project and decide to move ahead … It’s not even in our five-year CIP,” Lowe said.
The commission will vote on the vision at a future meeting.
To watch the entire presentation, click here.