ST. PETERSBURG — The city's downtown waterfront parks are a gem. Actually, says Phil Graham Jr. with conviction, they're St. Petersburg's most important asset.
The descendant of one of the city's earliest settlers and landscape architect of the new Dalí Museum has come up with an idea to burnish the parklands in the city's downtown that edge Tampa Bay.
His proposal, to create a Downtown Waterfront Park Foundation that would provide supplemental funding for maintenance and improvements for the city's "cherished jewel," was presented a few months ago to the City Council's public services and infrastructure committee.
"Great memories are experienced and enlivened in the setting of the waterfront park environment. In fact, I've heard St. Petersburg's beautiful waterfront compared to Monte Carlo … without the mountains," Graham said.
"I decided that there are enough people in this city that love the waterfront parks as I do and would work to preserve and maintain them to the highest standards.''
The council supports the idea of the nonprofit, independent volunteer group. The idea is embraced by leisure and community services administrator Clarence Scott.
"We welcome the opportunity for the partnership and see it as a win-win opportunity,'' he said.
As municipal budgets shrink, Scott said, "the phenomenon of the establishment of parks foundations is taking off across the country.''
St. Petersburg's parks and recreation department has faced several years of cuts, he said. In 2000, the department had just under $1 million for maintenance of plants and turf, Scott said. In the past few years, though, money for such tasks as planting, fertilizing and sodding has dropped to about $290,000.
Speaking before the council committee, Graham said the financial constraints have been evident in fewer plantings of trees and seasonal flowers, replacement of shrubs and refurbishment of grassy areas. "The parks are losing their luster for lack of funds," he said.
The foundation would help fill the gap, he promised.
Graham is already involved in a similar effort. He is a board member of the foundation that recently helped redevelop Pioneer Park at Central Avenue and Beach Drive, where an obelisk bears the names of St. Petersburg pioneers.
John Green, also a Pioneer Park Foundation board member, said the group contributed $46,900 to the recently completed project, which Scott said cost approximately $100,000. Pioneer Park, in the shadow of Bayfront Tower, was initiated by the foundation, Green said, which contracted with the city to build it and has provided funding through the years to help with maintenance.
The new foundation will focus on parks stretching from Flora Wylie Park, at 13th Avenue and North Shore Drive NE, to Poynter Park, at 1000 Third St. S.
A formation committee will meet in about a month.
"It's really an opportunity to continue funding our parks to the brightest shine we can,'' Graham said. "It's like a gem and you want to keep polished."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.