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Thursday, Sep 18, 2014

St. Pete downtown waterfront blueprint a step closer

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ST. PETERSBURG — City leaders on Thursday moved forward with pursuing a plan for the downtown waterfront based on a sweeping $125,000 assessment and report by the Urban Land Institute conducted last fall.

St. Petersburg City Council members had varying thoughts about some of the report’s recommendations for the Downtown Waterfront Master Plan, such as the projected $500,000 cost of hiring a consultant to develop the plan, and what effect the blueprint ultimately might have on landmark downtown sites like Al Lang Stadium and Albert Whitted Airport.

Recommendations included redeveloping the stadium as a modern sports complex, which upset those who want to preserve the field as-is because of its historic ties to baseball’s spring training. The institute also suggested possibly reconfiguring terminals at Albert Whitted, an idea that didn’t go over well with some airport enthusiasts.

The study was conducted in September and presented to city leaders and residents in October. It was funded primarily by the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, which contributed $100,000. The city paid the remaining $25,000.

With the controversy about a plan to replace The Pier fresh in council members’ memories, they stressed that the waterfront plan should include a robust public engagement process to avoid creating another bitter divide among residents, as well as city officials.

“I really do think that we have to get the public engagement piece right,” said Councilwoman Darden Rice.

The undertaking is the result of a charter amendment city voters passed in November 2011. It aims to control how the city develops its downtown waterfront, including the area’s scenic public parks and other amenities that many consider key features of downtown’s ambiance and economy. The city must adopt such a plan by July 2015.

The city is not required to include the Urban Land Institute’s recommendations in its plan. The institute is a nonprofit group that advises governments on land-use strategies to incorporate sustainability and spur economic development.

“Do we have to do what the report says? The answer is no, we don’t,” said Dave Goodwin, the city’s planning and economic development director. “That’s just some professional information from folks who were here for a little while and didn’t have the baggage we all have here and maybe see something new. So they made their recommendations and that’s what they are.”

The same goes for the projected cost of paying a consultant $500,000. That figure hasn’t gone over well with the council, which is dealing with a city budget deficit of more than $2 million.

“I think $250,000 is what I would vote for and more than that, I won’t,” said Councilman Steve Kornell. “I think that some prudence here is called for.”

The council discussed ways of shrinking the project’s expense, including shortening its physical scope.

The area studied stretches from Coffee Pot Bayou south to Lassing Park, and some council members said cutting some segments of that waterfront stretch would be an easy way to limit the cost.

In addition to changes to the stadium and airport, the study suggests taking advantage of the high concentration of science, technological and educational facilities at the waterfront stretch’s south end, stressing public transportation and making the entire waterfront area more pedestrian friendly.

City officials are expected to choose a consultant for the project next week.

kbradshaw@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7999

Twitter: @kbradshawTBO

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