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BayWalk still lobbying city leaders over public sidewalk giveaway

ST. PETERSBURG — The battle over a small strip of concrete in front of BayWalk is far from over.

Days after the City Council rejected Mayor Rick Baker's plan to privatize the public sidewalk along BayWalk's main entrance, city administrators and the owners of downtown's flagging entertainment complex were still trying to secure enough votes to push the proposal through.

"We are trying to continue to stress the need for the vacation and how important it is to the property," BayWalk property manager Thomas McGeachy said. "We've made ourselves available to update any and all council members who do need or want additional information."

City administrators also are talking about the deal over lunch and in closed-door meetings with council members.

The plan failed Thursday on a 4-4 vote after hours of heated debate that pitted businesses supporters against free-speech activists.

City Council Chairman Jeff Danner, who voted against the measure, said Tuesday he has a new revitalization plan for BayWalk. He added the item to Thursday's council agenda for discussion, but stressed that he will not reconsider the sidewalk giveaway. His plan calls for a greater police presence at BayWalk and establishing a vision for the complex based on residents' wants and concerns.

"Just because we didn't pass the vacation, nobody has given up or wants to walk away from it and see it boarded up," Danner said. "I don't think it should it be an all-or-nothing proposal."

The city might be able to address problems at BayWalk's entrance by allowing the sidewalk to be used for outdoor cafes and creating new pickup and dropoff locations, Danner said.

Protesters, teenagers and business leaders should be able to work together to come up with a solution, he said.

Council member Jim Kennedy said he still thinks the sidewalk vacation is the best solution. Baker's staff spent months vetting the proposal, he said.

"I would be all for a better solution, but if there was one I think it would have been presented to us or we would have found it."

Dwight Lawton, an anti-war demonstrator who spoke against the sidewalk giveaway at Thursday's hearing, said Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis called him immediately after the meeting to invite him and other free speech activists to hammer out a compromise that night.

"They wanted us to know, in so many words, what could we do to get you to give us the sidewalk," Lawton said.

The city offered to close the sidewalk for only one year, said Lawton, adding that he will not accept any scenario that involves closing a public sidewalk.

"We have a right to be there," he said. "It's a public sidewalk."

BayWalk's owners had pledged to invest $6 million and secure new tenants for the mostly vacant retail destination if the city gave them the northern sidewalk on Second Avenue N.

The public land has been used as the city's unofficial town square by loitering teenagers and demonstrators, much to the dismay of patrons who say they want to go out without being hassled. If BayWalk owned the sidewalk, its owners could have unwanted patrons removed or cited for trespassing.

The BayWalk property manager, Ciminelli Real Estate Services, said it will have a hard time securing tenants if the sidewalk remains public.

"The reaction to the vote has universally been disappointment," McGeachy said.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

. If you go

The City Council will discuss the future of BayWalk at

2 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 175 5th St N.

BayWalk still lobbying city leaders over public sidewalk giveaway 10/06/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 6, 2009 11:51pm]
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