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Edwards offers $600,000 for St. Petersburg welcome sign, just in time for GOP convention

ST. PETERSBURG — When it comes to the reach of one powerful businessman, the question isn't, "Where is Bill Edwards?"

These days the question is more like, "Where isn't Bill Edwards?"

The seemingly omnipresent mortgage company executive and entertainment producer has, in the past year, become the operator of St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater, bought the addled shopping BayWalk complex, put a bid on Tampa's Channelside Bay Plaza complex and hosted a benefit concert to help St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster's scholarships program. He currently is organizing the A Taste of Pinellas festival this weekend and is planning the music for the GOP convention's kickoff party at Tropicana Field in August.

"I'm all over the place, aren't I?" Edwards said, only half joking.

On Thursday, St. Petersburg council members will consider accepting a $600,000 donation from Edwards to build a "city welcoming" tower to be installed in time for the GOP convention.

"The eyes of the world will be watching us in August," Edwards said. "With all those people visiting, it'll be a great way to highlight St. Petersburg."

The tower, to be erected on Interstate 275 in the Gateway area, will resemble two other Mediterranean Revival towers that were installed in the late 1980s at the downtown entrances from Interstates 175 and 375. The city has planned for the Gateway tower since it was included in the 2004 budget, but hasn't had the money.

Until now.

Edwards said he has always been bothered by the lack of signs indicating one has arrived in St. Petersburg after crossing the Howard Frankland Bridge.

"I'm always like, 'Where exactly are we? I'm not sure,' " Edwards said.

Involved with the planning of an Aug. 26 kickoff party that 15,000 journalists and 5,600 guests are planning to attend at the Trop, Edwards said he wanted some sign of St. Petersburg that will grab visitors' attention. He asked city officials about putting up a sign, and they told him that they already had one planned.

He liked what he saw and decided to pay for it. The tower will be illuminated on three sides and have a vertical sign that says, "St. Petersburg Welcomes You."

"It's been something that's long way overdue," Edwards said. "And it'll be up long after the convention."

Council members still must approve it. Maintenance costs will be about $100 a month for lighting. Other maintenance costs aren't expected until 2018.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler@tampabay.com.

Edwards offers $600,000 for St. Petersburg welcome sign, just in time for GOP convention 05/01/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 9:56pm]
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