To fully appreciate the “after,” one must understand the “before.”
Tom James grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida. He took over the financial services company (Raymond James) his father founded decades “before” the city’s ascendence. That ascendance would be furthered in 2018 by the opening of his James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.
“I always said they rolled up the streets at 6 PM,” James recalled to Forbes.com.
Anyone who lived in St. Pete “before” shares similar stories of downtown emptying out after the 9-to-5ers went home, a lack of restaurants and hotels, nothing to see, nothing to do, nowhere to go and a general torpor blanketing the area.
“We had a lot of natural beauty and we had the waterfront downtown,” James said, but the area’s assets never came together to create a destination attractive to anyone other than snowbirds and beach bums.
That began to change in the early 2000s. Rising housing prices in the greater Tampa Bay area encouraged young people to begin buying homes in St. Petersburg’s urban core.
“I had a lot of employees move down there because it was very attractive, near the waterfront, near downtown, and all of a sudden, there was a rejuvenated marketplace,” James recalls.
Demographic trends occur gradually. One major accelerator of St. Petersburg’s vibrancy occurred on a single day after years of work. That would be January 11, 2011, when the Dalí Museum reopened in an architectural fantasy on the Tampa Bay waterfront, welcoming visitors the world over to what would become one of the highest rated museum attractions globally.