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Criticisms on Sweetbay miss the mark

Editor's note: St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster responds to an editorial published Thursday, "Foster's credibility problem."

Recently a Tampa Bay Times editorial called into question my credibility and character in my performance as mayor, and being strictly an opinion piece had every right to be light on facts. I do not have that luxury.

Firstly, shame on Sweetbay for claiming they warned me of their perilous situation and shame on the Times for taking their word for it. It is true when asked by a reporter if a meeting took place I did not immediately recall it. However, as reported on Jan. 23, I checked my calendar and confirmed within hours that yes, I did meet with Sweetbay in April 2011. And while I may not recall specific details of every meeting over the past three years, I can assure you that words like underproductive, profitability and potential closure would make even the casual conversation memorable, and would have led to immediate city and community involvement.

The fact is no one with the city, including me, had any knowledge of the dire financial situation of the Midtown store. Quite the contrary. At the annual Black History Month celebration held outside the store in 2012, I got the impression from Sweetbay officials that the store and its manager were company all-stars. Furthermore, the landlord had no warning of the underperformance of this store, and I have not found a single Midtown church leader or community group who recalls having a meeting with Sweetbay to discuss performance concerns.

The bottom line is this mayor, elected officials and community leaders were all taken by surprise; and rather than dwell on what we didn't know or point fingers, we all came together in one accord to tell the story of Midtown Sweetbay in the hopes of being a unified part of the solution.

One thing is clear. I remain firmly committed to the continued revitalization of Midtown as demonstrated by the initiatives we have undertaken during my three years as mayor, such as the expansion of the St. Petersburg College Midtown campus, renewed housing development programs, Sylvia's Restaurant, a new African American Heritage Trail and the development of a new Community Redevelopment Plan for the Midtown area.

As for the rest of my track record, I am confident that my actions and positions have been consistent throughout my term. Regarding the Rays' quest for a new stadium, the difference between the Times' opinion and mine is crystal clear. I have and will continue to put the St. Petersburg and Pinellas taxpayers, who have invested hundreds of millions of dollars, first. The Times and I do agree on one thing — the Rays should open their books for city review. Until then, it is clear that the entire Tampa Bay area must support the team in its current home if a future anywhere in the region is to be contemplated.

The "controversy" over Republican National Convention expenses was only a controversy to the Times. At the time of the referenced budget report, reimbursement agreements with Tampa had not been finalized. After all was said and done, the city of St. Petersburg has applied for reimbursement from the federal grant for all but $28,000 of RNC-related expenses. That $28,000 includes police and fire training hours that will benefit our community well beyond the convention.

As for Emergency Medical Services, this is an issue of countywide importance, and goes to the heart of medical first response and level of service. Progress is being made as all involved parties fully vet the recommendations of a consultant's study. I will continue to work in good faith with the county and surrounding communities toward a more efficient system to serve the medical needs of all county residents.

Unfortunately, in the increasingly competitive news business, controversy sells. Although there are more pages to fill and there is more air time to cover, good news about our growth, new development, customer service, successes in the arts, culture, neighborhoods, and downtown vitality gets little mention. But whether it makes the news or not, St. Petersburg's continued success is undeniable.

Opinions are just that, and I ask readers to keep that in mind. Regardless, I will continue to do my job, representing the best interests of the people of St. Petersburg each and every day. It's what I was elected to do.

Criticisms on Sweetbay miss the mark 01/27/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 25, 2013 4:30pm]
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