From Bezu to The Julia: New Developments Affect Downtown Historic District

July 2, 2021

Downtown St. Petersburg has a special sense of place, largely derived from its mix of historic and new development, each contributing to the uniqueness and charm of our city. 

The Downtown National Register Historic District, which roughly includes the area between Central Avenue and 5th Avenue North, was created in 2004, and recognizes the concentration of historic properties in this area.

Fourth Avenue North, between the waterfront and the Coliseum, is particularly rich in its collection and mix of historic resources. Facing this portion of 4th Avenue are seven designated local landmark buildings (one has been relocated) and an additional six buildings that have been identified as eligible for landmark designation. The 1925 Flori de Leon Apartments, where Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig stayed when the N.Y. Yankees called the 'Burg their spring home, is one of 4th Avenue’s iconic local landmarks.

Next door, though, a much-sought after .23-acre lot has been the focus of several proposed developments dating back more than five years.

Located at the corner of 1st Street and 4th Avenue North, immediately next to the seven-story historic Flori de Leon apartments, an early proposal for the site included townhomes, while, later, the 21-story "Bezu" project was rejected by City Council and subsequently modified to 18 stories. 

In 2018 PTB and nearby residents filed suit with the City of St. Petersburg, but lost that challenge, and the 18-story project was approved in 2019.

The proposed development will be the first high rise tower approved west of 1st Street along 4th Avenue North, in a part of downtown still rich with historic buildings and a pedestrian-friendly scale typical of St. Petersburg’s historic development pattern. 

At a Tiger Bay event back in 2019, PTB board member Peter Belmont shared a common refrain, that new projects should consider “what we look like on the streetscape, how we mix the old and new, how we have the combination of new development and the best of our past. If we can keep the streetscape pedestrian friendly, if we can keep the mix of the old and new, then we’ll have a downtown that we continue to love and that’s what we advocate for.”

Residents have also expressed concern about the impact that construction will have on the more than 90-year-old Flori building. 

Developers have rebranded and retooled the Bezu proposal as “The Julia,” and will seek approval for modifications to the project, including switching from condominium to apartments, adding 16 units from the original 20, and reconfiguring the parking and pool decks. Hearings are scheduled for June 16 (CRA) and July 6 (DRC).