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Something new for St. Pete (more Grady Pridgen)

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Sports hall plan hailed as catalyst

An $80-million downtown development could swivel on the arrival of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame.

By SHARON L. BOND and CARRIE JOHNSON

Published June 2, 2004

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ST. PETERSBURG - The Florida Sports Hall of Fame would move to a new building near Tropicana Field as part of a larger development that would include 320 condominiums, restaurants and offices.

Grady Pridgen is the developer of the $80-million project, which would cover more than 3 acres on Central Avenue east of 16th Street S. He said it is the largest contiguous piece of available property in downtown St. Petersburg.

If the project is completed, it would re-energize an area that has not benefited as much from baseball as city officials once predicted. It also would provide new life to the hall of fame, which closed its Lake City site in 2001 and has kept memorabilia in storage from such sports stars as tennis' Chris Evert, drag racing's Don Garlits and football's Bobby Bowden.

The unnamed project is still in its preliminary stages. Pridgen said he has purchased one small parcel at the northeast corner of 16th Street and First Ave. S, where a restaurant now stands. He is scheduled to close on the remainder of the property in July.

Pridgen, who has announced several residential developments in the Tampa Bay area recently, is planning to build three interconnected five-story buildings. The first floor of each would be retail and office space.

The development also would include 40,000-square-feet of retail space featuring two or three restaurants and an art gallery. A pedestrian plaza would overlook Booker Creek, Pridgen said.

The condominiums would be priced between $150,000 and $250,000, considerably less expensive than other recent residential developments in downtown.

The Florida Sports Hall of Fame, which announced last year that it wanted to move to St. Petersburg, has a signed letter of intent from Pridgen and plans to build a new 20,000-30,000 square-foot facility on the site, said Darrell Brandimore, the hall's development director.

The hall's building will be paid for through a $4-million capital fund-raising campaign. Details will be discussed at the 2004 induction ceremony Sunday at Tropicana Field.

The building probably will be shaped like a cylinder to complement Tropicana Field and provide more natural light, Brandimore said.

Inside, he said, there will be an emphasis on educational information and interactive materials for children.

The project is planned for the Dome District, which connects downtown to the economically struggling area known as Midtown. City officials hoped the arrival of Major League Baseball in 1998 would encourage development, but it did not do as well as they had hoped.

Pridgen's project would sit next to Ferg's Sports Bar, which has built a good business while others trying to take advantage of the crowds from Tampa Bay Devil Rays games have not been as successful. Many restaurants and clubs have opened and closed.

"We're hoping this project will spur additional development in Midtown," Pridgen said.

Kevin Dunn, managing director of development for St. Petersburg, said a project of the magnitude Pridgen is considering for Central Avenue would be a shot in the arm for the area.

"We certainly would be delighted to see some new project evolving out there," he said.

Mayor Rick Baker said he has not seen final plans for the project but was cautiously optimistic.

"It's still fairly preliminary," Baker said. "But obviously there are a lot of good things going on in downtown right now."

Pridgen was known primarily for commercial development in the Tampa Bay area until recently, when he announced several residential projects. One is Bayway Lofts, a $50-million project that would be 42 stories high, downtown St. Petersburg's tallest building. The project now is being redesigned.

Pridgen also plans to build a $350-million mixed-used development on the Imperial Yacht Basin off Gandy Boulevard in Hillsborough County.

Two years ago, he bought land in mid-Pinellas from the city of St. Petersburg for just under $5-million and plans to build businesses and homes there. Pridgen also owns a vacant former church and parish hall in downtown St. Petersburg, where he lived for a while and planned to develop a restaurant.

Last year, he bought baseball star Dwight Gooden's custom home in Pinellas Point for $1-million and moved his family there.

Pridgen is buying the biggest chunk of the Central Avenue land from Low Investments, a group of about 35 investors. Some of those investors are connected with Derby Lane, the greyhound track on Gandy Boulevard.

Closing on that land is set for July, according to a spokesman for the investment company. The land now is used for a parking lot.

Some City Council members expressed concern Tuesday that Pridgen may be overextending his reach.

"I think what he's doing is acquiring more and more projects and he's not going to complete them," said council member Virginia Littrell, who has been critical of Pridgen in the past. "He's just trying to leverage them."

Pridgen dismissed those fears and said he will complete the development.

Council member Earnest Williams, whose district includes the proposed project as well as portions of Midtown, said he's waited a long time to see investment in the area.

"People sometimes want to see things happen right away," Williams said. "But you've got to wait for the right project. I think this is going to be a positive step for the city."

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do people actually go to all of these hall of fames?

seems like just about every city has one.

In knoxville i saw the womens basketball hall of fame. That was the last straw as far as i was concerned.

Maybe it'll work in st. pete. It definitely didn't in lake city. It does look like a nice project. I'm glad downtown st. pete is getting attention.

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That's a good question. Winter Haven (the city I grew up in) has been the home of the Waterski Hall of Fame for years. But I've never even been to it or even seen a full parking lot at the building in all of the years that I stayed there.

However, I do think the Beer Hall of Fame may work, since they're will be a variety of beers available for drinking and a micro-brewery on site.

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