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3 big ticket items too pressing for St. Petersburg to ignore

It's a new year, and St. Petersburg's City Council has new leadership with Jim Kennedy and Karl Nurse at the helm as chairman and vice chairman.

But little else has changed. The council seems to be playing a game of musical chairs around a basket filled with big ticket items. In the basket are a few holdovers from 2010 that should be top priorities this year.

Let's see, there's BayWalk, the Pier and the Tampa Bay Rays stadium.

Sure, there are other concerns, including light rail, but the laying of tracks is a ways off. I'm talking about more pressing issues with price tags too big to be hidden in a consent agenda.

Let's start with BayWalk. It seems everything in the vicinity is blossoming. New businesses are opening and Beach Drive is thriving. HermanHome, meanwhile, has left BayWalk for a spot on Second Avenue S, so now the only business that seems to be drawing a crowd at BayWalk is Starbucks.

Come on. Really?

HermanHome's departure just after Christmas leaves the complex showing absolutely no progress since the council voted to vacate the sidewalk in 2009.

According to a recent St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 poll of Pinellas County residents, 77 percent rarely visit BayWalk. While some reasons cited include distance, safety concerns and the complex's poor reputation, the council should pay close attention to this finding: 20 percent don't visit because there are too few stores or it lacks anything of interest. (The poll, conducted by American Directions Group, surveyed 300 adults in Pinellas from Dec. 8 to 14, with a margin of error of 5.7 percentage points.)

How about returning the sidewalk to its rightful owners before selling the complex?

Next up is the Pier. The council has voted to demolish the upside-down landmark and spend more than $50 million on a new structure.

The poll found that respondents are split on that plan, with 27 percent unsure. And 69 percent are against the plan to spend more than $50 million on a new Pier.

Some residents have emotional ties to the iconic structure, but the reality is it will tumble into Tampa Bay unless action is taken soon. But in the current economy, the $50 million could be better spent elsewhere.

Lastly, Mayor Bill Foster and the council must find a happy medium if they want to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in the bay area. The telephone survey of 600 area residents revealed that two-thirds oppose paying taxes for a new stadium — even if it results in the team leaving.

Only a quarter of the residents would open their wallets to keep the Rays in the area.

As the council moves forward this year, keep in mind the poll also found that Pinellas residents think local officials throughout the county are doing an average job as stewards of their tax dollars. That's just not good enough.

Saturday Market to continue

Last week, when I mentioned the new International Baseball League's plan to host home games at Al Lang Field this spring, a number of readers wanted to know if that would affect the popular Saturday Morning Market.

The answer is no.

Market director Mark Johnson says he met with city officials about three weeks ago to talk about coordinating specific events.

There are several games that are scheduled for Saturday, the same day the market is open in the Al Lang parking lot from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Under the agreement, those games will start at 3 p.m.

"We (both parties) want to do things in such a way to negate the negative impact," said Johnson. "There are 6 to 10,000 people walking by Al Lang Stadium on that day, so we can possibly help them (the baseball league)."

Johnson added that he's interested in looking for other ways to help the city.

"My intent is to do a more in-depth presentation (to city officials) of where the market is right now, in a large-scale perspective," he said.

"We (market organizers) recently visited 10 farmer's markets in 10 days in southern California, and none of them can touch the tone of community spirit when compared to the Saturday Morning Market."

According to Johnson, the Saturday Morning Market is in the top 20 in the country in terms of community turnout and vendor count.

Sandra J. Gadsden is an assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at sgadsden@sptimes.com or at (727) 893-8874.

3 big ticket items too pressing for St. Petersburg to ignore 01/08/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 7, 2011 6:16pm]

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