Tuesday, February 20, 2018
News Roundup

Council hopeful Robert Blackmon fears for St. Pete's environment, infrastructure

ST. PETERSBURG — Robert Blackmon is big on the saving the environment, a history buff and a real estate investor believes the poor and unskilled should be trained to benefit from the city's building boom.

Those were just some of the issues the candidate for the District 6 seat on the City Council discussed Wednesday during a meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board. District 6 includes downtown and parts of Midtown and Old Northeast.

The 28-year-old Blackmon is one of eight candidates vying for the seat being vacated by Council member Karl Nurse, who is prevented from running again because of term limits.

Blackmon's campaign contribution report — his first — shows that he has raised $14,320. Of that, he has put in $10,000. The candidate, who only filed to run for the office in June, said he expects to be the "cash leader" in the next reporting period.

A St. Petersburg native and avid kayaker, he described District 6 as the most environmentally sensitive in the city and spoke about his concern for St. Petersburg's deteriorating bridges and sewer system.

"Everything flows from the environment," he said. "If the environment is lacking ... you could have less people moving here ... this could really snowball."

Though Mayor Rick Kriseman's plan to repair the sewer system "sounds good," he said it's too early to tell how the effort would work. Blackmon supports former Mayor Rick Baker in the mayoral race, and added that it's disheartening that the sewage repairs are being done as a result of a state consent order.

"We need to be investing all the time," he said of the city's infrastructure.

Blackmon said he also wants to see Spa Beach restored and become a usable beach again.

"My mom got swimming lessons there. It used to be a bustling, happening place," he said. "Right now it's some beer cans and some dog poop and one palm tree."

Restoration of Spa Beach is actually part of the city's planned $66 million Pier District project, which is expected to be finished in early 2019. But later, he told the Times the pier plans are still "up in the air" and said he wanted to make sure Spa Beach was not "an afterthought.

Blackmon also said he would also like to see both Salt Creek and Bartlett Lake — which, like Spa Beach, are also in District 6 — cleaned up and promoted as part of an eco-tourism program.

The 2011 Florida State University graduate said that he has knocked on "over 300 houses" in his fledgling campaign. He said topping the list of concerns among residents is the sewer system. The pier, car thefts, public safety and the Tampa Bay Rays also are issues.

Blackmon said he wants to see the Rays remain in St. Petersburg. The city needs to build a relationship with the team's owners, but, "at the same time, you have to let them look around."

He would like to see a new stadium at the east end of the Tropicana site. "There are really, really, really valuable development rights there," he said, adding that the Rays should get some of those rights to help defray the cost of a new stadium.

Asked about affordable housing, Blackmon noted that the city has plenty of old housing stock and that renovations, rather than new construction, help to keep prices low. But as he spoke about renovating a codes-encumbered four-unit building across from Melrose Elementary School in Midtown, the mostly poor African-American neighborhood just south of downtown, he recounted his frustrations in dealing with the city's permitting office. He went on to live in one of the units, but later sold the building and moved to Coquina Key.

He spoke firsthand about problems in Midtown, including "hearing gunshots all the time" and the area's lack of supermarkets and fast food restaurants.

He said he was disappointed to see Walmart Neighborhood Market close in Midtown close earlier this year. "I'll take their word for it that they didn't make any money," he said. "But it was always packed."

The city's current plan to bus residents to shop at yet another Walmart, " is completely screwed up," Blackmon said, adding that they should be taken to another chain, like Publix.

Other candidates in the District 6 race are Justin Bean, Eritha "Akile" Cainion, Gina Driscoll, Corey Givens Jr., James Jackson, James Scott and Maria Scruggs.

The Aug. 29 primary will determine the top two candidates who will face each other on Nov. 7.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes

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