Beyond downtown: St. Pete's newest emerging neighborhoods

Clustered around St. Petersburg’s Bayboro Harbor waterfront is one of the largest concentrations of marine research and regulatory organizations in the country. 

SRI St. Petersburg, the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office, USF College of Marine Science, the Florida Institute of Oceanography and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission are just a few of the nearly 30 marine-related organizations located here.

Just a block away, other equally powerhouse organizations like the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Poynter Institute for Media Studies, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and Bayfront Health St. Petersburg maintain a presence.

“In a very concentrated area, we have some amazing world-class organizations that have the potential to help take St. Petersburg to the next level in terms of talent and incubating new businesses,” says Allison Barlow, who was hired last year to help connect the dots and tell the story of this part of town -- now rebranded as St. Petersburg’s Innovation District.

Here’s an update on who’s who in the district and what’s new with them.

Johns Hopkins All Children's

Johns Hopkins All Children’s is jumping to the next level as an academic teaching center with the opening later this year of an $85 million, seven-story research and education facility.

In addition to research labs, offices and an auditorium, the new research building will feature a high-tech simulation lab. Simulation is the wave of the future in medical training.
Healthcare professionals practice high-risk scenarios, surgical techniques and emergency situations using infant and pediatric mannequin “simulators” that are programmed to breathe, have a pulse, heartbeat and more. It’s meant to make the experience as realistic as possible.

Jennifer Arnold, M.D., a nationally recognized expert in medical simulation joined the hospital last summer to direct the new program. A St. Pete native, Arnold was previously medical director of simulation at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. She and her husband are also the stars of a reality TV show, The Little Couple, which chronicles her life with spondyloepiphyseal dysplasic, a genetic mutation that leads to shortened stature.

Veterans Orthopedic Training Center

The Veterans Orthopedic Training Center is one of the newest tenants in the Innovation District.  

Spearheaded by Charles Barocas, director of the American Society of Orthopedic Professionals, and a St. Pete resident, the new nonprofit organization is located in the James Heart Center adjacent to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg and Johns Hopkins All Children’s. Nurses and medics at the Veterans Orthopedic Training Center's first workshop.

The center’s mission is to help medics take the skills they’ve learned in the service and apply them to a civilian career path as orthopedic technologists. “Hospitals and orthopedic practices all around the country are in need of trained personnel,” says Barocas.

Barocas expects to train up to 300 military medics a year in the proper techniques for casting and bracing orthopedic injuries and medical conditions. In mid-January, two medics joined a dozen civilian students to attend the center’s first training weekend to hone their skills. That training, combined with additional “distance learning” will help the medics apply for certification as registered orthopedic technologists, Barocas says.

Best of all, Barocas has set up the new center to provide the training for free to all current and former medics in all branches of the military. Although his nonprofit center will initially be self-funded, as awareness builds, he says hopes to secure financial support by reaching out to orthopedic physician groups around the country.

Barocas not only has extensive experience working as an orthopedic specialist himself, but as the lead instructor for the American Society of Orthopedic Professionals, he has trained thousands of students. He’s also a former Vietnam vet.  

Opening the new St. Pete center “is a way go give back and pay it forward,” says Barocas. “When I got out of the service, I applied to X-ray school and was disappointed to learn that the 10 slots were filled. Then I ran into a World War II vet in the hallway and when he heard my story, he went to bat for me and secured me a spot in the program. The rest is history.”


PureMolecular is best known as the small startup company that figured out a way to identify whether the grouper consumers were eating was real or fake.

John Paul, Ph.D., a professor at the USF College of Marine Science, and Robert Ulrich, Ph.D., a former graduate of Paul’s, hit a home run with their patented technology that allows seafood buyers to be assured that what they are buying is the real deal.  

Four years ago, the two launched PureMolecular as a USF spin-off company. Their first product launch was appropriately -- GrouperCheck. Additional tests for shrimp, tuna, lobster and other shellfish are in the works. They’re also working with Florida Fish and Wildlife to test harmful algae blooms that can give rise to red tide. 

Now, the scientists are hoping to make the crossover from marine science to the medical field. “There is definitely the opportunity for biomedical applications,” says Paul. “We can use the same technology to analyze seafood as we can to detect microbes for medical diagnosis.”

At the end of last year, the company moved into offices in the former Suncoast Medical Clinic across from Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

Skyway Marina District

A two-mile stretch of land along 34th Street South between 30th Avenue South and 54th Avenue South, not far from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, is the newly designated Skyway Marina District. A large metal sculpture of a sailboat -- the district’s new logo -- marks the boundaries. Phillips Development project for Skyway Marina District

Eckerd College, the St. Petersburg College Allstate Center and Ceridian are located within the district. The Pinellas Bayway bridge to St. Pete Beach and Fort DeSoto are close by. 

Now, a several-year vision to reinvent the area and capitalize on its proximity to the Intracoastal Waterway and underdeveloped tracts of land is slowly starting to come together. 

“We have a blank canvas to create a district where people want to come to work, play and live,” says Misty Bottorff, who was hired as executive director of the Skyway Marina District at the end of last year.

She’s been busy networking with stakeholders, including existing businesses and neighboring homeowners associations, to build consensus on a vision for the district. 

The goal is to create a South St. Petersburg destination with a recognizable identity, and to encourage development with a broad mix of restaurants, shops, offices, residences and neighborhood services.  Long-term plans call for installing new pedestrian lighting, and adding public art, bike paths, signage and landscaping to 34th Street South, as well as placing power lines underground. Phillips Development project for Skyway Marina District

One of the biggest coups for the district was the announcement last year that Phillips Development would build Sur Club, a $70 million, mixed-use development with 296 residential units, two restaurants, a parking garage and storage facility.  Sur Club amenities for residents include a 6,000-square-foot lazy river.

Groundbreaking for the first phase of the project took place last October, with a completion date of 2019.

Maximo Marina

A $25 million facelift is underway at Maximo Marina, a full-service marina in the heart of the Skyway Marina District.

“There’s a lot of momentum happening in the Skyway Marina District and we’re glad to be part of it,” says Lee Hicks, general manager of Maximo Marina. “The marina is definitely a driving force behind it.”

Built in 1960, Hicks says the marina was once the largest covered marina in the world. “The guy who developed the Maximo neighborhood had a boat and no where to put it, so he built a marina,” says Hicks. “It was the pride and joy of the area for many years but eventually fell on hard times and got neglected.''

Now managed by Island Global Yachting Marinas, Maximo Marina is undergoing a complete transformation, with work expected to be complete some time in 2019. The final plan calls for 220 boat slips large enough to accommodate boats up to 110 feet. “That size boat will enhance the Skyway Marina District by bringing in people with a high level of disposable income,” says Hicks.

The marina’s renovation was a key factor in securing The Getaway, a popular Tiki bar on the Gandy Boulevard waterfront, which is building a second location at the marina. The restaurant is scheduled later this spring and will have a large patio and dockside bar.

“I’ve spent about 10 years building marinas and when this project came up, I transferred from St. Thomas back here,” says Hicks. “Amazing is the key word here. If someone is moving to Florida, St. Petersburg is the place to be.”

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Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.