How It Got Started: Bay Plaza, Part II

03 Jun 2020 2:12 PM | Anonymous

By Peyton Jones, Ph.D. 

This is the second article in a series on the Bay Plaza Development that was slated to remake downtown in the 1990's. To read the first article, click here: Bittersweet Memories of Bay Plaza

The Developers

The ambitious Bay Plaza project was a joint venture between the J.C. Nichols and Elcor Cos. (which together formed Bay Plaza Co.), and the city of St. Petersburg. 

While the Phoenix-based Elcor was a relatively unknown entity, the J.C. Nichols Co. was a nationally established brand, having gained prominence for building the Country Club Plaza, an exclusive 55-acre shopping district in Kansas City, Mo.

In the summer of 1989, after three years of negotiations, the Bay Plaza Co. officially became the city’s Master Developer. The Redevelopment Agreement created a public-private partnership, wherein the Bay Plaza Co. agreed to pay roughly seventy five percent of total project costs and to operate and manage three public attractions, the newly renovated pier, the Bayfront Center, and the soon-to-completed Suncoast Dome. For its part, the city agreed to contribute about $40 million dollars and to use its powers of condemnation and expropriation (eminent domain) to help the developers acquire the necessary parcels downtown. 

Gordon Neil Elsey III was the founder of Elcor and, until 1991, the president of the Bay Plaza Co. A former property manager and investor, Elsey had no experience in commercial real estate development when he arrived in St. Petersburg. But with a taste for expensive suits, a new Jaguar, and celebrity friends like Hall-of-Fame Packers quarterback, Bart Starr, Elsey looked the part of a successful businessman. St. Petersburg Mayor Robert Ulrich, in 1988, referred to Elsey as “a visionary” and an “extraordinarily talented individual.” 

Because the Redevelopment Agreement gave the Bay Plaza Co. an unprecedented level of autonomy, shielding the developer from the typical forms of public oversight, Elsey was able to keep up a charade for nearly five years. In 1991, facing mounting financial and legal troubles and a rash of bad press, Elsey stepped down and left town without having signed a single tenant. Nevertheless, the project moved forward.



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