Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Crime rap drains BayWalk's crowds

ST. PETERSBURG — Christmas at BayWalk was not merry last year.

A series of shootings and brawls among a large crowd of teens in and around the downtown entertainment complex ended with one person wounded, several pepper-sprayed and many arrests. The melee further cemented the perception that crime and loitering at BayWalk was out of control.

"People said, 'Why would anyone go there and risk that kind of scene?' " said Patricia Easton, 52, a downtown resident who vowed never to return after the shooting.

As the holiday approaches, police and community leaders say there is no cause for concern. They say the complex's reputation as a meeting place for rabble-rousers and lawless youths is partly to thank for the change.

That perception — coupled with the souring economy and BayWalk's own financial troubles — has reduced attendance at the shopping plaza, creating a more subdued environment in recent months.

City Council member Karl Nurse admits he was once reluctant to take his wife to BayWalk for their weekly date.

"If I went to a late movie, by the time I came out I was not comfortable. There were hundreds and hundreds of teenagers and lots of testosterone and live music and bars that were getting people drunk," he said. "But these days, it is pretty quiet. All the reasons people were afraid to go by BayWalk have dissipated."

Police records paint a more complicated picture of BayWalk's criminal challenges.

Calls to 911 from BayWalk, the movie theater and an adjoining city parking garage climbed to 509 this year, up slightly from last year. The calls ranged from residents seeking noncriminal help to reports of burglaries, brawls, public intoxication and criminal mischief.

Some of the problems center on the city's Midcore parking garage adjacent to BayWalk. Since 2004, at least 20 percent of all police calls involved the garage.

"It's not as lit as it could be," said Mercy Murphy, 28. Her husband's briefcase was stolen from his BMW in the garage while the couple watched a movie at BayWalk in January. "We came back and the window was smashed out. You'd think someone would hear that or see the glass if they had been patrolling."

Still, Murphy said, the car burglary could have happened anywhere.

"It hasn't deterred us. We still go down there, but we usually don't stay very late because there is a younger crowd down here and you just don't want to get in the middle of that," she said. "I would rather now go to Pinellas Park for the movies over BayWalk."

Evan Mory, the city's parking manager, could not be reached for comment Friday.

As a precaution, police will be out in force on Christmas Day patrolling the area for potential troublemakers and idle schoolchildren on winter break. But they don't expect a sequel to last year's chaos.

"We are not expecting as large as a crowd this year," said police spokesman Bill Proffitt.

Owner Fred Bullard said extra security guards have helped keep order. The economic downturn also has kept thrifty residents at home, especially cash-strapped teens, leading to a quieter shopping experience for those still able to spend, he said.

"They don't have as many people at the shopping malls. There is no reason why we should be different," Bullard said.

Some of the groups blamed for BayWalk's decline insist they have little to do with the violence at the entertainment complex.

Chris Ernesto, an organizer for St. Pete for Peace, a group that sponsored weekly protests, said the media have inaccurately linked BayWalk's decline with peaceful antiwar demonstrations. He declined to comment further.

Bullard disagrees.

"People don't like going through the intimidation of walking through a picket line or a demonstration," said Bullard. "It makes people uncomfortable."

Marlene French, 64, said she quickly got fed up with elbowing her way through crowds of teenagers.

"Parents just used it as a cheap babysitter," she said. "They would drop off their kids and wouldn't pick them up until after midnight."

Retailers also argue that last year's brawl and a similar incident in 2005, in which 17 people were arrested on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to battery on a law enforcement officer, are isolated incidents.

"If the adults would come back to BayWalk, the kids would go away," said Mike Shapiro of Shapiro's art gallery. "If there are a lot of adults here, kids don't want to be here."

On a recent evening, it seemed both teens and adults had opted to stay away. The complex's half-empty restaurants and vacant storefronts set a serene scene.

"I think it's a nice place and it is definitely safe," said Megan Martin, 26, as she sipped a cosmopolitan during happy hour at Grille 121. "But don't tell anyone, then they might all come back."

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or [email protected]

fast facts

Calls for help

911 calls from BayWalk and Muvico BayWalk

2004: 352

2005: 368

2006: 386

2007: 431

2008: 410

911 calls from Midcore garage

2004: 80

2005: 121

2006: 149

2007: 60

2008: 99

Crime rap drains BayWalk's crowds 12/20/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 26, 2008 9:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Unforgiving wildfires affect vineyard workers and owners


    SONOMA, Calif. — When the wildfires ignited, vineyard workers stopped picking grapes and fled for their lives. Some vineyard owners decided to stay and fight back, spending days digging firebreaks and sleeping among their vines.

    Wilma Illanes and daughter Gabriela Cervantes, 8, found their home intact, but had lost a week’s wages and sought aid.
  2. O'Reilly got new contract after big settlement


    Last January, six months after Fox News ousted its chairman amid a sexual harassment scandal, the network's top-rated host at the time, Bill O'Reilly, struck a $32 million agreement with a longtime network analyst to settle new sexual harassment allegations, two people briefed on the matter told the New York …

    Bill O’Reilly was fired by Fox News after multiple allegations.
  3. Trump plans to release JFK assassination documents


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Saturday morning that he planned to release the tens of thousands of never-before-seen documents left in the files related to President John F. Kennedy's assassination held by the National Archives and Records Administration.

    FILE - In this Nov. 22, 1963 file photo, President John F. Kennedy waves from his car in a motorcade in Dallas. Riding with Kennedy are First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, right, Nellie Connally, second from left, and her husband, Texas Gov. John Connally, far left.  President Donald Trump, on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017,  says he plans to release thousands of never-seen government documents related to President John F. Kennedy's assassination.  (AP Photo/Jim Altgens, File) NY107
  4. Water leak slows traffic in Westshore area

    Public Safety

    TAMPA –– A broken water main has closed the westbound lane of West Cypress Street between North Westshore Boulevard and North Ward Street. The city estimates the repairs will be completed by 7 a.m. on Sunday.

  5. Fox renewed O'Reilly contract despite knowing of allegations


    NEW YORK (AP) — The Fox News Channel says the company knew a news analyst planned to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill O'Reilly when it renewed the popular personality's contract in February.

    Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly appears on the Fox News show, "The O'Reilly Factor," in New York. O'Reilly has lost his job at Fox News Channel in April following reports that several women had been paid millions of dollars to keep quiet about harassment allegations. [Associated Press file]