Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg council members want to clean up Williams Park

ST. PETERSBURG — Efforts to transform Williams Park from a homeless drug den to a flourishing playground for families and downtown workers have floundered for years.

Now, four St. Petersburg City Council members say the city must immediately reclaim the 4.3 acres in the heart of downtown from drug dealers, addicts and drunks.

The council members reacted Monday to a story published Sunday in the Tampa Bay Times about how the park has become an oasis of illegal activity from sunrise to sundown.

"I think it's a shame," said council member Leslie Curran. "We need to get a handle on this."

Suggestions include building a wrought iron fence around the park to limit entrance points, stationing more police officers at the park, increasing the staff of homeless outreach workers at City Hall and adding concession stands to attract students from St. Petersburg College.

Curran, Karl Nurse, Jeff Danner and Jim Kennedy all agree on one thing: Before any cleanup can start, the buses must go.

The park is a transit hub for 16 bus routes. Hundreds of people get off one bus to catch another at the park every day. Of those routes, 14 could be moved to another location once land is found, said Danner, who also chairs the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

"It has to go," Danner said. "This all ties in with our intermodal station. Money is available."

Plans for a new transit hub have been in the works since at least 2010. If that move occurs, diesel-chugging buses would no longer block the view of the park from the streets, opening up green space.

The PSTA, Danner said, also is examining problems with the bus shelters.

Transit authorities will meet next week with city and police officials to explore ways to open the bus shelters so people can't hide from passing police officers, Danner said. The meeting was planned earlier this month.

Officials have tried and failed to revitalize Williams Park for decades. Now in its 125th year, the park once hosted Presidents Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. It now hosts the homeless.

To neighboring businesses and residents, the park plagues some of the priciest real estate in the city. Parents no longer push strollers on its sidewalks. Downtown workers don't want to eat lunch on its benches.

As the economy rebounds, seven new projects are slated to add more than 1,000 new apartments and condo units — and presumably thousands of residents — within blocks of the park.

Two years ago, Kennedy said he tried to add playground equipment at the park, but his plan didn't gain traction.

Something must be done to change the reputation, he said, adding: "It's just a tough act."

Nurse wants to put a wrought iron fence around the park.

He plans to pitch the idea to Mayor Bill Foster and city administrators. Limiting entrance and exit points could help police control illegal activity and allow the park to be locked at night, he said.

"One of the most beautiful parks I have ever seen in Paris had a fence around it," he said. "It would provide people with a sense of safety.

Also, the city needs more police officers at the park to keep troublemakers away, Nurse said.

He lauded Curran's efforts a few years ago to launch an ongoing Saturday arts exhibit and other events at the park. Both eventually failed.

One of Curran's biggest issues involves people who aren't homeless but linger at the park all day to drink, smoke and sell synthetic marijuana joints, commonly referred to as spice.

She wants to ban stores from selling the product.

"It's going to take an enormous commitment from the city," she said.

Danner believes he has a low-cost solution.

Building concession stands with Wi-Fi hot spots could lure students from St. Petersburg College.

"Kids could take over the park," he said. "They don't come across the street."

Mark Puente can be reached at or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at

St. Petersburg council members want to clean up Williams Park 02/18/13 [Last modified: Monday, February 18, 2013 11:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of July 16, 2017


    Seems like Broward County has started a domino effect. It was the first school board to commit to filing a lawsuit against the state and its controversial education bill, House Bill 7069. Then, the St. Lucie County School Board signed on, too. A running tally of school boards that have reportedly expressed interested in …

    Kali Davis (left), training director for Springboard to Success, helps to coach Justin Black (center), who will be starting his third year of teaching PE at Melrose Elementary, as he works to instruct students in a math lesson during the Spring Board program of Summer Bridge at Woodlawn Elementary School in St. Petersburg.
  2. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  3. Kushner to testify before two intelligence committees


    WASHINGTON— President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is set to make a second appearance on Capitol Hill — he will speak with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, one day after he is scheduled to speak with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators behind closed doors.

    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. [Associated Press]
  4. Rays blow lead in ninth, lose in 10 to Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Kevin Cash liked the way Alex Cobb was competing Friday night. He liked the way the hard contact made by the Rangers batters went away after the second or third inning. So as the game headed toward the ninth, there was no doubt in Cash's mind that sending Cobb back to the mound was …

    Rays starter Alex Cobb can hardly believe what just happened as he leaves the game in the ninth after allowing a leadoff double then a tying two-run homer to the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo.
  5. Exhumation of Dalí's remains finds his mustache still intact


    FIGUERES, Spain — Forensic experts in Spain have removed hair, nails and two long bones from Salvador Dalí's embalmed remains to aid a court-ordered paternity test that may enable a woman who says she is the surrealist artist's daughter to claim part of Dalí's vast estate.

    Salvador Dal? died in 1989 leaving vast estate.