Make us your home page
Instagram

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 [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

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

Loading...
  1. Deputies: Wimauma teacher's aide sexually molested teen, 13

    Crime

    A Wimauma teacher's aide faces charges lewd or lascivious molestation after Hillborough County deputies say he inappropriatly touched a 13-year-old girl.

    Sonny Juarez, 29, a teacher's aide in Wimauma, faces charges lewd or lascivious molestation after Hillborough County deputies say he inappropriatly touched a 13-year-old girl on several occasions while working at the RCMA Wimauma Academy, 18236 U.S. 301 S, between November 2016 and March 2017. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]

  2. Tampa Bay deputies head to UF to assist with Richard Spencer's speech

    Public Safety

    Local deputies are heading up to Alachua County in preparation of white nationalist Richard Spencer's speech in Gainesville on Thursday.

    Law enforcement is stepped up in Gainesville on Oct. 18, 2017, ahead of Richard Spencer's appearance. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
  3. Gymnast McKayla Maroney alleges sexual abuse by team doctor

    Olympics

    Two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney says she was molested for years by a former USA Gymnastics team doctor, abuse she said started in her early teens and continued for the rest of her competitive career.

    U.S. gymnast McKayla Maroney poses after completing her routine on the vault during the Artistic Gymnastic women's qualifications at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Maroney posted a statement on Twitter Oct. 18, 2017, in which she said she was molested for years by former Team USA doctor Larry Nassar. [Associated Press]
  4. Top 5 at Noon: Facts on Richard Spencer's Florida visit; Column: Jameis, don't be a hero; Locale Market changes again

    News

    Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com:

    White nationalist Richard Spencer (C) and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police in Emancipation Park after the "Unite the Right" rally was declared an unlawful gathering August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Spencer is set to speak at the University of Florida. [Getty]
  5. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: Uncertainty surrounds Jameis Winston's health

    Bucs

    Greg Auman talks about the Bucs' quarterback situation, with uncertainty around Jameis Winston's health, in his latest Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Jameis Winston takes the field for warmups before the Bucs' game against the Cardinals Sunday in Glandale, Ariz. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]