Leisurely past, lively future

Downtown St. Pete, with Historic Kenwood and the Grand Central District

Established in the late 1800s by a railroad tycoon and a developer from Detroit, St. Petersburg quickly found its place in American society, dubbing itself "Health City, USA" around 1910. Winter tourists flocked to the area for its luxury hotels and soothing, non-industrial waterfront parks. That slowed when the Depression hit, but after WWII, people again started visiting St. Pete, and the ones who'd come as tourists in their youth decided to settle here permanently.

By this point, though, downtown St. Petersburg was a commercial center, and new settlers began moving farther and farther into the suburbs and beaches. Services started fleeing and office buildings began to dominate the downtown area, which basically turned into a desolate wasteland after 5 p.m. for a stretch of about 30 years.

In the 1990s, St. Petersburg (along with much of the rest of the U.S.) woke up and started to realize the potential of its neglected urban environment. Restaurants and arts venues popped up, and housing around the formerly crime-riddled downtown started being desirable again. During the recent housing boom, mixed-use condo towers sprouted up, with the drop in prices barely slowing the new construction.

Perhaps the best thing about downtown St. Pete's revitalization is that it's taken a long time, and it's still not done. Sure, the area surrounding the Bay is about as gentrified as you can get, but head a few blocks west on Central Avenue and you'll still find funky antique stores, shuttered retail space and huge opportunities for both independent local businesspeople and big-time developers. Just a short walk from those multimillion-dollar condos, there's still a lot of flava to downtown St. Pete.

Historic Kenwood (any resident will correct you if you leave off that first word) is a largely residential neighborhood clustered around Seminole Park, with the adjacent Grand Central business district a steadily improving destination for shopping and services. Kenwood dates to 1912, when developer Charles Hall bought 160 acres and started development. Much of Historic Kenwood's attraction stems from the 1920s craftsman bungalows built by Hall, many of which have been renovated in the past decade by people moving to this resurgent neighborhood.

See also

The Globemother

Downtown pioneer and arts booster JoEllen Schilke.

The don't-miss list

The top 30 draws in downtown St. Pete and Historic Kenwood/ Grand Central

Local quotable

"People actually sit on their front porches and are open to one another around here.

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