Rising High: Talking with Brian Zucker of the must-read real estate blog St. Pete Rising
If you’ve been to downtown St. Pete recently, or even if you just see it in passing from I-275, you can’t help but notice the amount of construction. In the EDGE District alone, three apartment buildings and a hotel are going up at the same time steps away from one another.
That’s just one example. All over downtown and beyond, the question of the moment is “What’s that?”
You don’t have to go far to find an answer. The go-to destination for info on the whats and wheres of St. Pete development is a blog called St. Pete Rising (stpeterising.com). It’s authoritative, it’s easy to navigate, and for downtown residents and real estate junkies like myself, it’s a whole lot of fun.
But I’ve often wondered: Who’s behind this thing?
Turns out it is almost entirely a labor of love by two young guys who share a knack for data-gathering and a genuine enthusiasm for the city where they live: Anthony Close, 26, and Brian Zucker, 32. Close, who works for a local financial services firm, was a student at the University of Florida in Gainesville when he began the blog as a hobby, a way to keep connected with his hometown. Zucker, a Ft. Myers native, graduated from UCF and moved to the Tampa Bay area for a job (he’s an actuary), at first settling in Palm Harbor. He discovered St. Pete Rising in 2014 and started sharing tips and ideas with Close, who invited him to come aboard the following year. By that time Zucker knew that St. Pete was really where he wanted to live, so he moved there in 2015. (He bought a house in the Arlington Townhomes development, where he lives with his wife, Carly, and their dog Zeke; Close lives a short distance away at 930 Central Flats.)
Begun as an aggregator of what other news sources had reported, St. Pete Rising has evolved into an originator of in-depth stories about multiple local real estate projects, keeping track of what’s proposed, what’s in progress and what’s complete. Brian has also made a point of covering local retail and restaurants coming onto the scene.
I spoke to him recently about how he and Anthony dig up their info, how they make it work financially and whether there would ever be… a Tampa Rising?
On filling a need: You drive down Central and see all this construction and you don’t really know what it is. You can piece it together from a Google search, but there wasn’t a one-stop shop to find out what was coming soon to St. Pete.
On getting the scoops: You’d be surprised what’s available to the public if you know where to look. Without giving away my secret sauce, a lot was available to everybody. I just happened to notice it… Over the years we’ve built relationships with everyone from the mayor to small local business owners. So now we get a lot of people contacting us with the scoop.
On going deep: We have the advantage of being hyperlocal. Our entire focus is on one city, and focused on downtown. [Other real estate journalists] do great work, but most of them cover a territory way bigger than St Pete.
On getting it right: It means more to us than anything to get the story right, especially because we’re a small publication.
How they pay for it: For the first five years it was — still is — a passion project. We not only didn’t make a dime, we lost money [expenses for WordPress, Facebook, etc.] As we’ve gotten more popular and readership has increased [118 percent increase in pageviews from 2018 to 2019] our expenses have as well. Instead of banner ads, we decided to bring on a few community supporters for a flat fee per month, 6 months or a year at a time. That money has allowed us to spread our wings and grow. We’re looking to add a few more [paid] contributors and we just hired a photographer.
Plans to expand? A Tampa or a Clearwater Rising, perhaps? We’re not looking to those others, to be honest, because we don’t live there. We would love to expand coverage of other neighborhoods beyond downtown, though — the Skyway Marina District, the Tyrone area, Crescent Heights — but we’re now up against a bandwidth issue.
The projects he’s looking forward to seeing develop in 2020: I do think 400 Central [the 45-story tower from developer John Catsimatidis] is going to be exciting. What’s happening at the old police station is really exciting. That is a huge piece of land that has enormous potential for the EDGE.
What about folks who worry St. Pete is getting too developed? I totally understand — St. Pete has an amazing history, and people think we’re growing too fast. But this is the problem of a successful city. To me, cities are either growing or they’re dying; they never stay the same.There are some people who think a city should be preserved in amber. We preserve dead things in amber, and I don’t think St. Pete is dead.
And what is it you love so much about St. Pete, anyway? It’s the community — it’s the people. It’s infectious, to be honest with you. There’s a sense of belonging here which I think you don’t get everywhere. You see everybody wearing Chad Mize’s World Tour shirts — city pride shirts. I didn’t see that in Ft. Myers!
Find St. Pete Rising at stpeterising.com and on social media. Brian Zucker also writes a column, “Downtown Developments,” for Green Bench Monthly.