With projects large and small seemingly announced every week, there’s no doubt that St. Pete is in a generational construction boom. A recent report from the Downtown Partnership predicts a 46% increase in residential units in the downtown core, on top of a 40% jump from 2010 to 2014.
As downtown is increasingly built out, developers have focused more intently on Mirror Lake, an area that represents the breadth of St. Petersburg’s early history.
Initially developed as an orange grove by some of the city’s earliest white settlers, it later became one of the first residential areas in downtown, designed by boom-era developer Perry Snell and celebrated by renowned urban planner John Nolan as a respite from the bustle and commotion of downtown life. In the 1930s, he was quoted as saying, "no matter what any wrong-minded administrations may do to it, or what other municipal developments may be undertaken to mar or change its nature-intended mission, Mirror Lake was made by nature the civic center of St. Petersburg."
Later, Mirror Lake’s tourist apartments, shuffleboard complex, first high-school, and city hall, cemented its identity as one of the most historic downtown neighborhoods. The lake is surrounded by local landmarks, including the Shuffleboard Club (1927), the Mirror Lake Library (1915), the Lyceum (1926) and the Universalist Church (1929).
As downtown St. Pete continues to boom, it’s sometimes hard to keep up with every project and, with so much happening so quicky, we often don’t have time to step back to see things in totality. Here then, is a roundup of what’s happening around Mirror Lake.
2nd District Court of Appeals
Elected officials and community leaders broke ground in December 2022 on a state courthouse fronting Mirror Lake. However, soaring project costs and questions about funding from Tallahassee have delayed construction of the 50,000-square-foot project.
Unnamed Apartment Tower
In February of 2023, city council unanimously approved plans for a 21-story tower on 1st Avenue N., behind the Universalist church. The project is slated to include 200 residential units, 10,000 square feet of retail space and a parking garage with roughly 250 spaces. At the council hearing, representatives were keen to stress that the project was not located on Mirror Lake, but “175 feet west of Mirror Lake Drive,” which orients the building frontage towards 1st. Ave. N. Plans call for enhanced public art and a large plaza and setback to account for the increased height of the building.
Across the lake, BridgePoint Church sold its parking lot to HP Capital, where an 18-story residential building is currently under construction. The 88-unit residential tower building, dubbed “Reflection,” will include retail and “common area” space. Similar to the project proposed behind the Universalist Church, Reflection faces 8th St., away from the lakefront.
Next to the Lyceum building/Bridgepoint Church, Pinellas County School District has selected a developer for the historic Tomlinson School, which was closed in 2022. To their credit, the School District prioritized saving the historic schoolhouse while redeveloping the lots to the west, behind the building.
Half of the 225 units are earmarked as affordable housing for teachers and other district employees, while the other half will be offered at market-rate prices. While plans are still in development, St. Pete Rising reported in June that the nearly 100-year-old Tomlinson building will include 40 residential units along with retail and amenities fronting Mirror Lake Drive and 3rd Avenue North. The project is an excellent example of what preservationists refer to as “adaptive reuse,” reactivating a building that has been part of the neighborhood for nearly a century.
250 Mirror Lake
Next door to Tomlinson, the Cade Allen-designed house constructed in 1936 at 250 Mirror Lake Drive was approved for demolition according to city records obtained by Preserve the ‘Burg in August. Plans submitted to the city at that time called for a roughly 3,100 square-foot structure.
In January, the Development Review Commission rejected a proposal for the Lake House condominiums, an 18-story development located directly on Mirror Lake. Preserve the ‘Burg was the registered opponent to the application; the developer did not appeal the DRC's decision to kill the project, which would have demolished several properties along Mirror Lake Dr.
Florida land boom apartments
Prior to 1920, most apartment buildings were private homes that had been divided into several units. As the need for multi-family housing grew, dedicated apartment buildings became more prevalent. Some
Across the street from the Mirror Lake Library at the corner of 3rd Ave. N. & 5th St., a collection of these boarding houses was sold in 2019 and a demolition permit was approved against objections from Preserve the ‘Burg. After several changes in ownership, the properties remain vacant and were recently boarded up following neighborhood complaints. The Tampa Bay Times reported in June that the current owners are not in a financial position to proceed, and that the current demolition permit was set to expire in August. Recent legislation in Tallahassee, however, may have extended the deadline into 2024.
As the city continues to grow and development around Mirror Lake continues to intensify, local stakeholders will need to determine how best to integrate new projects into the historic fabric of Mirror Lake and retain the vision of planner John Nolen. One solution might be preserving the lower-rise character surrounding the lake while more intense development is stepped back from the lakefront. We're certain St. Petersburg can strike a balance that allows for growth while also recognizing the neighborhood's origins, historic character and long-standing development pattern.