Food truck rally aims to revitalize shopping center

Councilmember Steve Cornell (left) presented the 2018 Neighborhood Partnership Award to the Greater Pinellas Point Civic Association, Bayou Highlands, Bahama Shores and Lakewood Terrace Neighborhood Associations for organizing the truck rallies. L-R, Kenneth Conklin (Lakewood Terrace), Barbara Ellis, Danny White (Greater Pinellas Point Civic Association) Walter Borden (Bahama Shores) and Norm Scott (Bayou Highlands)

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

PETERSBURG — Saturday, Nov. 3 was a great day to pig out. The sun was shining, temperatures were in the mid-70s, and food trucks a-plenty were parked at the Skyway Plaza Shopping Center in hopes of revitalizing the empty space located at 62nd Avenue South.

Since Sweetbay closed its doors more than five years ago, there has been no anchor store at the plaza. In its day, the shopping center boasted of a major grocery chain, hardware store, a Greek restaurant and more. Without a large grocery store, other businesses left, and the plaza has sat mostly empty.

However, four of the areas’ neighborhood associations: Greater Pinellas Point Civic Association (GPPCA), Bayou Highlands, Bahama Shores and Lakewood Terrace are leading the charge to pump life back into the plaza and bring commerce to the area.

“We are still trying to get Brixmor, who owns the complex, to look at revitalization,” said GPPCA member Tom Lally. We want to show that the community comes out when we have these events and that they will support any businesses that would show up here.”

With Sweetbay still paying rent until 2020, some feel that the Brixmor Property Group is dragging their feet on bringing new businesses in.

“We are hurting; we want something down here,” said Kenneth Conklin, president of Lakewood Terrace Neighborhood Association, adding that new business will attract folks from all over and help rid the stigma placed on the south side of town.

“This is a beautiful area,” he expressed, noting the four major parks and access to the Bay.

A 2017 Urban Land Institute report stated that the area would not support a large grocery store, but instead should look for smaller service-oriented businesses. And that is exactly what the residents are looking for.

“We are trying to encourage them to bring other businesses in like barbershops, food places, dry cleaners,” said Lally. “We all spend our money someplace else, but we all live down here. We want to keep the money here and have the jobs here.”

The first food truck rally in June brought in crowds upwards of 1,200 hungry people. That large showing piqued Brixmor’s interest and this rally they sent representatives down to observe the action in person.

The city supported both rallies, providing tables, tents, the stage for performances and a bike rodeo for the kids. For June’s rally, the city fronted the $1,000 guarantee required by the food truck association for 10 food trucks to park their trailers on the lot. This time around, no assurances were needed because truck owners were pleased with the last event.

District 5 Councilmember Steve Kornell represents the area where Skyway Plaza is located. and he also lives up the street from it. He was on hand to ask eventgoers to support what little businesses are left in the area.

“You have two assignments: shop in the district whenever you can, and join your neighborhood association,” he urged. “If you do those two things, you’re going to make your neighborhood a better place.”

Kornell said there are some amazing small businesses throughout his district, and if the area is to get more, “we have to support what we have.”

“I think these food truck rallies are just awesome,” remarked Danny White, director of GPPCA.

White, who has lived in St. Pete all his life, love seeing old friends and meeting new ones. Number one in his mind is for people to come out and have a good time.

“Just commune and socialize with one another, see people who you’ve probably never seen before, and they live right here in your neighborhood and understand that this empty plaza is just a blip and not something that will be forever.”

The Skyway Plaza is not the only slumping shopping center on the four associations’ radar. They are setting their sights on Coquina Key Plaza, which hasn’t been the same since Publix pulled out in the early 1990s.

Conklin said anyone can get involved with the revitalization efforts by reaching out to their neighborhood association.

“You just need to want to help the south side flourish,” he said.

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