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The historic arcade makes a comeback in the EDGE District of St. Pete

The historic arcade makes a comeback in the EDGE District of St. Pete

A rendering of the inside of an arcade in the Edge Collective
A rendering of the view inside a paseo in the new Edge Collective

Want to learn more about St. Pete’s history? Join Monica on one of her historic St. Pete trolley tours in person! Reserve your spot here.

Big changes are happening in the Edge District. The Moxy Hotel has slated its opening for guests in August 2024. Later this year, PTM Partners will begin revitalizing much of the rest of the block, from 11th St and First Ave S to 13th Street and Central Avenue.

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The Moxy Hotel is the central part of Phase I of the EDGE Collective, which will see the delivery of the hotel and the redeveloped and modernized 1246 Central Avenue (the old Furnish Me Vintage building). Phase II will deliver approximately 350 luxury multifamily rentals, 45,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, and 360 parking spaces. 

But PTM isn’t just constructing the biggest building they can and calling it a day. There’s a level of care and local knowledge in their approach that will give hope to even the grumpiest of St. Pete’s old guard. Perhaps that’s best exemplified by the return of the arcade, an element that should make St. Pete history and architecture buffs giddy.

Architectural drawing of an arcade on Central Avenue.
A rendering from Storyn Studio of one of the arcades slated for the Edge District.

Reviving a St. Pete landmark

During the decade of the 1920s, there were a dozen arcades in St. Petersburg, mostly along Central and First Avenue North. In the days before air conditioning, the long, covered passageways through a building, with small shops on either side, provided an escape from the sun and rain, as well as a convenient shortcut between two commercial thoroughfares (First Avenue North once looked much more like Central Avenue, with thriving businesses and cafeterias on both sides; the implementation of one-way streets put an end to that).

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While most arcades ran north to south through a building, a few were set diagonally, and they were the most popular because they provided the quickest shortcut. Likewise, other arcades were set in an L-shape, providing more frontage for stores and more shade for customers. Today only four arcades remain: the Crislip and Green Richman Arcades on the 600 block of Central Avenue, and the Florida and Snell Arcades on the 400 block of Central. 

Designed for functionality and charm

Architect Everald Colas of STORYN Studio for Architecture, who has been working closely with PTM on the project, is bringing back the arcade, along with its roofless cousin, the paseo, which he and PTM have already included in the design for the Moxy. A landscaped promenade between the hotel and the neighboring Bodega restaurant will provide a pleasant and attractive shortcut between Central Avenue and future development at the Historic Gas Plant site. 

Colas and PTM plan to take this functionality a step further by adding another three paseos or arcades (whether they have a roof or not remains to be seen) to the new project. The firms want the block of Central Avenue between 11th and 13th Street to feel inviting, rather than looming and impersonal. “We are always looking for opportunities where a seasoned developer can thoughtfully implement these urban rooms where you sort of blur public versus private uses. I think there’s a sensitive approach, design-wise, that’s quite interesting.”

“Making sure St. Pete’s rich history is infused with its future has been paramount for us during each phase of this project,” said Nicholas Pantuliano, CDO and COO at PTM Partners. “While working closely with Storyn, we concluded that walkability should be of utmost importance, so the addition of new arcades and paseos was only fitting.”

Drawing of an arcade in a future development on Central Avenue.
A rendering from Storyn Studio of one of the paseos slated for the Edge District.

Integrating historic elements into modern development

Two of the new arcades or paseos would run north and south like the paseo at the Moxy. One will take a more novel approach and run east to west along Commercial Avenue, the “alley” between the former Dr. BBQ and the Central Avenue buildings to its immediate north. That space will serve a double function, handling services like deliveries and waste removal during “off” hours, and then transforming into retail space or event space at peak hours. 

You can feel Colas’ enthusiasm for the clever functionality of the arcade and paseo, and his appreciation for the arcade’s place in St. Pete history and its appeal for today. “As part of our research, we looked at the 1920s bones of St. Pete and overlaid it on what we are doing now. We looked at the Crislip Arcade, at that scale, and said, ‘We want to avoid the issue of having a superblock, and we certainly don’t want to lose the sort of mom-and-pop storefront feel that we have here in St. Pete.’ So, we began programming with the idea of using the arcade to soften the street level of the new buildings. The arcade, which is very much St. Pete, also solves our problem with how we deal with density. It’s practical. It helps solve fire code issues and issues of ingress-egress and light and air. That means when people start to walk they won’t sense large blocks of development, they’ll sense pockets where they can tuck in and out. It’s going to feel softer, it’s going to feel very St. Pete.”

Architectural drawing showing new development in the Edge Collective.
A rendering of the new Edge Collective slated for Central Avenue.

Colas and PTM know that people have strong reactions to the idea of a twenty-story building in an area historically accustomed to buildings of 3-5 stories. It’s one of the reasons why they are preserving the former Furnish Me Vintage building at 1246 Central Avenue. Built in 1926 as Lester and Sons Furniture Company, the 3-story building has served the area for nearly 100 years and the neighborhood felt strongly that it should be preserved. Colas credits PTM Partners with their willingness to listen to the community and adapt to what is right for St. Pete. “They could have come here and knocked down Furnish Me Vintage and put up some condos like every other site. That’s what the numbers say to do. But as developers, they want to be in St. Pete for a long time and they want to be good neighbors. They are unique in that way.”

Architectural rendering of a paseo in the Edge Collective.
The paseos and arcades of the Edge Collective will provide a shortcut between Central Avenue and future development at the Historic Gas Plant District.

Thoughtful development for the Sunshine City

An award-winning architect who practiced for years in New York City, Colas is well-versed in both the theory and practice of urban infill design; listening to him speak is like listening to your favorite college professor. His enthusiasm for the dual accomplishments of the arcade – functionality and design –  is infectious. “The detailing of the arcades, in terms of the decorative nature of them, have inspired our next phase. There’s a sense of a building being distinguished because you can read its history by the way it’s detailed. It gives the building a sort of a position of ‘I’m okay to show my unique historical sense of craft, but adapted for a new use.’ That’s why I like the building that Bodega is in. It has a presence, and it ages well with time.”

Colas continues, “The original urban planning of Central Avenue was thoughtful, the bones were right…it has wide sidewalks for people to hang out, the mom and pop storefront pacing feels good. No one wants to walk more than 200 feet and not feel like they’ve gotten something along that walk. After a while, it gets boring. People say to themselves, ‘it’s super hot out here, let’s get out of here, where’s my car?’ But if you have these nooks, everyone finds their own spot where ‘I can have my meeting’ or ‘I can have my coffee.’ If you do that, you can still go vertical. You don’t want to go vertical and just drop it down with a big lobby and only residential uses where the public doesn’t know how to engage with it. It must be softened with thoughtful retail uses and passages so the public feels like a portion of the block is their own.”

Creating an engaging pedestrian experience in the EDGE District

“At the end of the day, we aren’t interested in simply making a 20-story tower. We’re also interested in a ground-floor experience so that pedestrians experience the first two floors as community uses and eventually look up and think, ‘Oh wow…someone lives up there?’ So, it was a matter of being inspired by history that was happening here, but also a matter of functionality.”

Colas laughs when talking about how the arcades are also great for Florida’s climate: “You can never have enough shade, and you can never have enough shortcuts!”

While the face of the Edge is changing, it’s hard to imagine that the architects, developers, and builders from the 1920s who created the city that we love today wouldn’t celebrate these new developments. St. Petersburg was created by boosters and builders who championed the climate and leisurely life of the Sunshine City. Through thoughtful partnerships with the Edge District, developers like PTM Partners and architects like Everald Colas and the STORYN team are reimagining the Sunshine City, with their hearts in the past and their eyes on the future. 

Architectural rendering showing layout of the Edge Collective.
An aerial view of the proposed Edge Collective development, which will utilize arcades and paseos in a nod to St. Pete history.

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