Downtown St. Petersburg has a special sense of place, largely derived from its mix of old and new. St. Petersburg has a number of important historic structures located downtown that each contribute to the uniqueness and charm of our city. This was recognized in 2004 with the designation of the Downtown National Register Historic District. This district roughly encompasses the area between Central Avenue and 5th Avenue North.
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 the designated landmarks on 4th Avenue.
"Bezu" started as a 21-story proposal that was rejected by City Council and subsequently modified to 19 stories. This high rise condo tower will be built atop a massive parking garage on a small parcel of land at the corner of 1st Street and 4th Avenue North. It will be immediately next to the 7 story historic Flori de Leon apartments. The project, Bezu, now renamed the Blue Lotus, has gone through many setbacks, rejections, and lawsuits going to back to 2017.
With little in the way of explanation, the Pinellas Circuit Court recently rejected the legal challenges of Preserve the 'Burg and neighborhood residents to the city's approval of "Bezu". 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 scale typical of St. Petersburg in earlier decades. The proposed development was voted on by city council at four separate hearings, to ultimately receive a majority vote.
September, 2017: Bezu is announced to the public as a proposed 24-story luxury condominium building at 100 4th Avenue North.
December, 2017: The City's Development Review Commission ("DRC") unanimously votes against approving Bezu, finding the proposed tower to be too tall and massively out of scale for its location. The developer appeals the decision to City Council.
February, 2018: City Council conducts a public hearing and votes to deny the developer's appeal, upholding the DRC's decision to reject Bezu.
June, 2018: The developer offers the City a modified plan that staff reviews and approves. It's a somewhat smaller version of the original Bezu. The DRC reviews the staff approval and votes 4-3 to approve Bezu as modified. Preserve the 'Burg and neighborhood residents appeal to City Council.
August, 2018: City Council conducts another full house public hearing. A majority of City Council fails to support the modified Bezu plan but in accord with Council rules, the 4-4 vote results in the appeal being denied and the modified Bezu plans being approved.
September, 2018: Preserve the 'Burg and neighborhood residents file Petitions for Certiorari in circuit court seeking review of City Council's tie vote allowing Bezu to move forward. It is argued to the court that City Council failed to properly consider its zoning code neighborhood compatibility standards.
December, 2018: City Council, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, votes to deny Bezu by finding the development to be inconsistent with the Intown Redevelopment Plan (IRP).
March, 2019: The developer makes changes to the street level appearance of Bezu without changing the building's overall size and submits a new application for Community Redevelopment Agency approval.
April, 2019: City Council, acting again as the Community Redevelopment Agency, conducts a public hearing and concludes the modified plans are consistent with the Intown Redevelopment Plan, approving Bezu with a 5-2 vote.
April, 2020: The circuit court issues their order denying Preserve the 'Burg's Petition for Writ of Certiorari allowing City Council's approval of the modified plans for Bezu to stand.
In 2009, the Pinellas Circuit Court upheld a city decision rejecting approval for a proposed high rise hotel that was to be located just a block north of Bezu, on 5th Avenue North. In that matter as well as with Bezu the court was called upon to consider how the City applies its neighborhood compatibility standards (development code requirements designed to ensure that new downtown development does not overwhelm what is around it). The two decisions by the circuit court suggest the court will give broad latitude to how the city applies its development code requirements.
With the city's approval of Bezu, the bar for out of scale development is gone, along with City Council's ability to say no to other out of place developments. Development proposals like Bezu clearly call on the city to determine if there are limits to the mass, height, and intensity of downtown development. They also call on the city to determine how to protect the unique and special feel of the Downtown National Register Historic District while allowing for new large scale development.
Preserve the ‘Burg will continue to advocate for the protection of the Downtown National Register Historic District and urging the city to consider it in development decisions.