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Arts advocates ask for more support in St. Petersburg's final budget preview

ST. PETERSBURG — In less than two weeks, Mayor Rick Kriseman will submit his first budget to the City Council.

On Wednesday, residents had their final chance to offer their own suggestions about the way the city spends its money.

The majority of the few dozen speakers came to talk about funding for the arts.

"It is vitally important this economic force be nurtured and supported by the city government," said Bruce Cook, president of St. Petersburg City Theatre Inc.

Arts advocates said they appreciate Kriseman's plans to give another $100,000 for the Office of Cultural Affairs.

But that's just a start, they said.

They asked for an increase in the amount of money set aside for arts grants (currently $175,000) and $50,000 to support the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance.

Artists need to be financially nurtured, said Stacia Schrader, a Regions Bank vice president and branch manager at its Central Avenue location.

"We need to not only develop them, but keep them in the city," Schrader said.

The People's Budget Review, a citizens group that began attending city budget meetings a couple of years ago and has influenced past budget decisions, also showed up in force.

Organizers circulated a handout that showed the results of their recent "rethinking community wealth" survey.

The group asked 1,000 residents how they value city resources such as libraries, parks, pools, golf courses and rec centers.

It also asked how they felt about things like using public lands for growing food, free Wi-Fi at rec centers, grant writing support for civil groups, neighborhood tool sharing programs and apprenticeship programs for youth unemployment.

All those ideas were popular with residents, according to the survey.

"I really hope you'll pay attention. There's a very strong sentiment coming through on this," said Bruce Nissan, 66. "An awful lot of these projects cost very, very little. But they will build community."

Another concern that popped up: Roser Park residents protesting a proposed bike trail that would cut through their neighborhood, the city's first historic district.

And several city workers also urged the mayor and council to create a city-run curbside recycling program.

Annette Hubbard, 69, asked that the city invest in a community garden in the southern section of town.

There is already one near Azalea Middle School, she said, and other parts of the city could benefit as well.

"I'm here today to plant seeds," she said.

Council member Darden Rice thanked residents for participating in the more than 21/2 half hour meeting.

"Thank you for changing the conversation about the city and the budget," she said.

Ashley Green, a People's Budget Review member, asked Kriseman to re-evaluate some of his priorities.

The administration plans to spend $700,000 on marketing, but residents have other ideas.

"St. Pete can best market itself through the success of its people," Green said.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com, (727) 893-8643 or on Twitter @cornandpotatoes. Charlie Frago can be reached at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4159. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.

Arts advocates ask for more support in St. Petersburg's final budget preview 06/18/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 11:42pm]
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