ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Bill Foster has issued a challenge to neighborhoods that want to save two city pools from closure.
Use them or lose them.
Foster said Friday that he is working on a plan that will keep the Shore Acres and Jennie Hall pools open — if attendance spikes this summer. He said he hasn't decided how much the attendance would have to climb, but said the public has to prove to him that the pools are necessary.
"If more people come out and stress the fact that having a pool in their neighborhood is a public need, and they demonstrate a need by increased usage this summer, then I would absolutely consider keeping them open," Foster said.
Foster announced on May 7 that he planned to close four city pools next year in an attempt to close a projected $12 million to $14 million shortfall in the 2011 budget. A few days later, after hearing complaints from residents, Foster said he planned to close only two pools. Foster said he proposed to close Jennie Hall because it has the lowest attendance in the city and is too close to another pool, E.H. McLin. Shore Acres was chosen because it has low attendance.
At a Wednesday community forum, Foster heard more complaints from residents who said the two pools were important to their neighborhoods. Closing Jennie Hall, in particular, drew scorn because of the pool's historic significance. When it was built in 1952, the Jennie Hall pool was the only one in St. Petersburg where black residents could swim.
That same night, the Council of Neighborhood Associations recommended against closing either pool.
Although it's used by fewer residents than other pools, Jennie Hall's attendance has surged since 2005. In 2009, it drew 5,036 residents, 66.5 percent more than in 2005. That increase is more than any other city pool, including North Shore, the top pool in the city.
"I thought it was a bad idea from the beginning," said CONA member Steve Corsetti. "I hope the mayor's just testing the waters, but he's getting a whole lot of people upset. Especially as far as Jennie Hall is concerned, it sends the wrong message at the wrong time."
Foster said he's listening to comments from the public and trying to be as responsive as he can while still considering all possible options in cutting expenses.
"This is an evolving plan," Foster said. "You always try to keep thinking of scenarios. You just go back to the drawing board and go through the budget line by line every day. There's not a day that goes by when I'm not doing that."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.