CLEARWATER — In an unusual request, a city that isn't actually on the gulf is requesting a share of bed tax money for beach renourishment.
Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson appeared before the Tourist Development Council on Wednesday morning to request roughly $500,000 to replenish the sand on a 300-yard stretch of bayside beach. The mayor spoke passionately about his city of 12,000 clawing its way into a tourist circle usually occupied by its more affluent gulfside neighbors.
"What Gulfport is doing right now is basically becoming a part of greater Pinellas County tourism," Henderson said, telling the board that the city is having trouble providing enough parking for tourists who leave their beach resorts to visit Gulfport's thriving restaurant and bar scene.
Henderson would know — he gave the board a good laugh when he said he has been bartending as a "lucrative side project" and could attest to the atmosphere's draw.
Andy Squires, Pinellas' environmental services manager, talked about the city's need, particularly to the stretch west of the Gulfport Casino. There is precedent to funding a bayside beach renourishment project, Squires said, as the tourism council gave Gulfport more than $200,000 about 15 years ago.
Since then, Gulfport has used state and city funds to replenish what it can, but Henderson said they "don't have as many options as the gulf beaches."
There was a consensus among board members that a need exists; however, they were hesitant to shell out money without considering the consequences.
"How do you turn down the next guy knocking at the door?" asked board member Tony Satterfield, a St. Petersburg beach hotel executive.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who is on the council, agreed with concerns about setting a dangerous precedent, but noted if visitors and locals alike were treating the Gulfport sand strip as a legitimate beach destination, then they should, too.
Henderson said he would like the beach replenished within three to five years.
The discussion ended with no explicit objections to funding Gulfport's beach renourishment, but council members stopped short of officially approving it. They want more concrete evidence — beyond the mayor's bartending testament — of a tourism uptick in the area.
Henderson said he would provide that information.
Karen Seel, who chairs both the tourism council and the Pinellas County Commission, said she fully anticipates the board will approve the project by December, when her term expires.
Katie Mettler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8913. Follow her on Twitter @kemettler.