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Residents ponder future of St. Pete’s waterfront

Published:   |   Updated: September 10, 2013 at 06:59 AM

ST. PETERSBURG — A pedestrian-only zone on Beach Drive, water taxis linking St. Petersburg to Tampa, footbridges turning the city’s parks into one contiguous waterfront path.

Armed with city maps and survey forms, more than 300 residents got creative Monday night, throwing out a slew of ideas for how to make the city’s waterfront more appealing. Connecting different parts of the shoreline to make it more walkable and adding more facilities for bicyclists and families were among the most popular ideas.

The meeting at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg was the first of several forums to gather feedback from residents as city officials embark on drafting a downtown waterfront master plan, intended to be a blueprint for future development on the city’s signature shoreline.

The meeting came just weeks after the city’s plan for a new futuristic pier was overwhelmingly rejected by voters in a referendum.

“This is one of the most important endeavors that will lead to a lasting legacy, truly for the next 50 to 75 years,” said Mayor Bill Foster.

Residents worked in groups filling out individual and group surveys. Questions included what features a pier should have and whether Al Lang Field should remain as a baseball stadium.

That question was of particular interest to fans of Tampa Bay Rowdies, the soccer team that plays at the stadium. One idea proposed by City Council Chairman Karl Nurse is to convert the stadium into a soccer facility.

“They use that for baseball only four to five times a year,” said Sam Falco, who has been attending Rowdies’ games for two years. “Rowdies’ games have been good for downtown merchants.”

The city’s waterfront, some seven miles of almost contiguous publicly owned land, includes Albert Whitted Aiport, the pier and waterfront parks like Straub Park.

With a map spread out in front of them, it was easy to see that the parks are not connected, several residents complained. A commonly suggested solution: a footbridge over the Vinoy Basin to expand the waterfront for pedestrians.

Another common gripe was noise from traffic on nearby Beach Drive, leading to calls to block part of the road to traffic.

“I want a place just for kids and families to enjoy themselves,” said Tom St. Peter, who has previously served on the city’s beautification committee.

Carlos Garcia, who regularly runs along the shoreline in downtown St. Petersburg, said the city should look at converting the parking lots that occupy prime waterfront spots on either side of the pier approach into parks.

The surveys will be among the documents that a panel of experts from the Urban Land Institute will examine as part of a trip to St. Petersburg later this month. The city and the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce raised $125,000 to bring the non-profit group, regarded as a center of excellence in planning and land-use, to draft proposals for how the city could revamp its waterfront to draw more residents, tourists and businesses.

Mike Tobias, a St. Petersburg retiree, said he would like to see a water shuttle to Tampa and better transit in the city. He attended the meeting because he does not want to see any development on the city’s waterfront parks.

“I want to make sure it’s protected, said Mike Tobias, a St. Petersburg retiree. “They’re probably St. Petersburg’s best feature.”


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