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St. Petersburg keeps BayWalk's sidewalk public. Was it the right call?




[Cristina Silva | Times]

Update: The City Council rejected a plan to cede the sidewalk fronting BayWalk to its owners Thursday, casting a shadow of uncertainty over the future of downtown's fallen entertainment complex.

The council refused to so much as consider the matter, voting 4-4 against a motion to vote on the controversial plan that pitted First Amendment rights against corporate interests and economic development.

The tie vote was a resounding loss for Mayor Rick Baker, whose staff crafted the ordinance and lobbied on its behalf in recent weeks.


St. Petersburg City Council will vote this morning on whether to declare a public sidewalk downtown to be the private property of BayWalk, the struggling retail and movie complex.

The sidewalk has evolved into a hangout for teenagers, a target for panhandlers and the city's unofficial soapbox for protesters. BayWalk managers say gaining control over the sidewalk -- and clearing out protesters -- would allow them to revive the flagging complex.

About 20 protesters were outside City Hall this morning, one with a sign that read (Mayor) Baker hates free speech. readers are having their say this morning with more than 100 comments posted on Howard Troxler's column and our news story, Privatizing public sidewalk at BayWalk could lead council down precarious path.

Readers have mixed views on the issue: Some say clearing out protesters would lure shoppers and movie-goers back to BayWalk; others say the city's going too far to appease a developer and wouldn't win a First Amendment court battle. Here's a look at what readers are saying:

Tony from Clearwater wrote: "Take the sidewalk private. The problem is every protest happens at Baywalk regardless of what it's about. Why should those businesses suffer depending on the whims of any random protest for any reason."

"If you want to take your family to the movies, do you have to listen to people protest about Iraq?" asked Harry from St. Pete. "Should protesters have the right to protest anywhere? In the theater? If protesters were protesting films, maybe your argument would be more valid."

"Nobody has the 'right' to shop. Nobody has the 'right' to be un-bothered," wrote David from Tampa. "Everybody has the 'right' to express their opinions in public spaces, whether you like their opinions or not."

Buzzard from Gulfport had an alternative solution for BayWalk: "Government should not take away the right to protest. And protesters should not take away the right of other citizens to go about their business as normal. Build a bridge from garage to second floor and let them protest all they want on the first."

"How about a rotating protest area?" suggested Scott from St. Pete. "Maybe each month in the downtown area, a different area of downtown will be approved for a permit for peaceful protest. Then Baywalk, or any other location, will not be significantly hurt by protests."

We'd like to hear from you: Which reader comment do you agree with in our poll?

The business owners should have some rights, too. And it would be safer for customers. Seems like a reasonable request to me.
How could a city council even think 'to give' a public sidewalk to Bay Walk as private property? This is ridiculous.

[Last modified: Monday, May 24, 2010 3:58pm]


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