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Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014

Nurse focuses on rebuilding troubling St. Pete neighborhoods

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ST. PETERSBURG - A large map of the Melrose-Mercy neighborhood in City Council Chairman Karl Nurse's office shows vacant lots and which homes were empty or boarded up at the end of 2011.

The south-side neighborhood, which runs between 16th and 22nd streets south of the interstate, is one of the poorest in Nurse's district, which he has represented since 2008.

Over the years, Nurse has worked with homeowners, banks and investors to get houses fixed up. He has even bought and rehabbed a few himself. He encouraged residents there to form a neighborhood association and takes part in neighborhood cleanups.

There are now about 30 fewer boarded-up homes, he said.

"The city can do some stuff; what it really takes is getting a neighborhood engaged," he said. "It's about getting enough sparks going to make a difference."

Since Nurse, 58, was appointed to City Council in 2008, he has made the regeneration of the city's poorer neighborhoods a priority. Many of those neighborhoods are in District 6, which includes both the prosperity of downtown and some of the poorer neighborhoods of South St. Petersburg.

As part of his efforts to improve blighted communities, Nurse convinced his colleagues on City Council to approve waiving or reducing city liens against abandoned properties - measures that were deterring people from buying and renovating homes or building on vacant lots. He successfully pushed for the creation of a foreclosure registry so that city code enforcement staff could contact banks who were not maintaining foreclosed homes.

He was also behind a $400,000 program that gives 20 percent rebates to property owners who spend at least $25,000 rehabbing rundown homes and worked with members of an interfaith coalition that works on social justice issues to develop a program that rewards construction companies who hire more local workers.

Nurse has also tried to lower crime, lobbying for three of the security cameras that the city received for the Republican National Convention to be trained on known hotspots for illegal activity, including drug-dealing. After a rash of convenience store robberies, he pushed for a city ordinance requiring convenience stores to keep windows clear of displays so store clerks could be seen from outside.

"Robbers don't like to stick a gun in someone's face in front of a window," he said.

If elected for another term, Nurse said he would like to see the local-hiring program extended and would support plans to expand research facilities at All Children's Hospital, which could include a new residence hall to attract medical researchers to St. Petersburg.

As he has done with his work in neighborhoods, Nurse is not likely to draw attention to his accomplishments.

"When you know people are skeptical, it's better to get to work and not make a big deal about it," he said.

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

Karl Nurse

Age: 58

Family: Wife, Jody; children, Julie, Laura, Ryan and Karlie

Occupation: President, Bay Tech Label

Education: Bachelor of arts in political science, University of South Florida

Civic experience: City Council chairman (present), council member since May 2008; CONA president (three years); Old Southeast Neighborhood Association president (six years); St. Petersburg Planning Commission (eight years); Pinellas Suncoast Transit Association board member (four years); St. Petersburg Historical Preservation Commission (eight years)

Should the city continue with red-light cameras? Yes, with modifications

Will you vote to stop the Lens? Yes

What to do about the Rays? "Significant improvements to mass transit in Pinellas County can have a large positive impact on Rays attendance. The Rays and the city should begin looking at future options because any decision will take four-eight years to implement."

Campaign donations raised: $14,045 (as of July 19)

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