St. Pete council hears from residents on budget, business and shuffleboard

“This is not an appropriate thing to do to our clubhouse and cue house,” said club president Christine Page.

DIRK SHADD | Times

“This is not an appropriate thing to do to our clubhouse and cue house,” said club president Christine Page.

ST. PETERSBURG — Earlier this year, hardly anyone showed up at the city budget summits.

That changed Wednesday night, when about 150 people packed into the Lake Vista Recreation Center to give city leaders an earful about what they do — and don't — want to see in the proposed fiscal 2012 spending plan.

Some came to oppose proposed cuts to library hours. Others got up to encourage Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council to keep arts and public safety as priorities.

But most of the people who filled out comment cards had two subjects on their mind.

About a dozen residents spoke out against a $1.4 million proposal to put a restaurant and bar at the city's downtown Mirror Lake complex, home to the iconic St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club.

Just as many people spoke on behalf of the Grand Central District Association, which faces a proposed $12,000 cut in funding from the city.

"It's always helpful to have the input before the budget it settled, rather than after," council member Karl Nurse said. "I know we've had more people here tonight than in the last several years."

Wednesday's budget summit was the third and final such meeting. However, there still will be other public hearings to adopt the budget at the end of the summer.

Despite being told repeatedly by City Council Chairman Jim Kennedy that the shuffleboard issue wasn't on Wednesday night's agenda, supporters and fans of the club flocked to the microphone.

"We're thrilled to be in a discussion about spending," said club president Christine Page. "But this is not an appropriate thing to do to our clubhouse and cue house."

Other supporters said allowing the restaurant and bar is the same as allowing alcohol in a park.

The potential funding reduction for the Grand Central district also sparked passion.

Lauren Ruiz, executive director of the district association, said it would be hard for the group to recover from a funding cut.

"I'm the one in an office every day," she said. "All the funds that we have, it turns around and goes right back into the community."

Dozens of business and neighborhood owners echoed her remarks, pointing to the revitalization that area of the city has seen over the past few years.

Eventually, both sides even began advocating for each others' cause.

"We're arguing about $1.4 million for one business, and they're asking for $12,000 for two dozen," Jennifer Logan, 27, former president of the shuffleboard club, said when it was her turn at the podium. "I would really like to see this (the shuffleboard project) tabled indefinitely. I would like to see those dollars go for growth in the city."

By the end of the meeting, it appeared at least one group may get its wish.

Foster said he plans to meet with members of the Grand Central and 22nd Street South districts, which get the funding as part of their designations as Florida Main Streets.

"I wanted to start weaning them off (the funding) now," Foster said. "If we can come up with a program where we can wean these districts off in the next few years, then I will consider fully funding them now."

Foster declined to take a position on the Mirror Lake proposal, but said that whatever happens, he doesn't see the shuffleboard club going away.

"I do not intend to eliminate the shuffleboard events on Friday nights," he said at the start of the meeting.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

St. Pete council hears from residents on budget, business and shuffleboard 06/22/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 23, 2011 1:01am]

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