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Midtown missteps reveal weak city leadership

Street artist Sebastian Coolidge is making his mark on St. Petersburg. Here, he painted a young man squeezing an orange atop the Freshly Squeezed street-wear shop at 900 First Ave N. 

LUIS SANTANA | Times (2012)

Street artist Sebastian Coolidge is making his mark on St. Petersburg. Here, he painted a young man squeezing an orange atop the Freshly Squeezed street-wear shop at 900 First Ave N. 

If the hiccups of city government were a round of golf, a host of senior officials would need to take a mulligan.

In the last two weeks, it seems that our fearless leaders have been forced to take penalties in the proverbial sand traps in Midtown.

First there is the $7.1 million debacle that is the closure of the Sweetbay in Midtown. The jury is still out on which party — Sweetbay or City Hall — is being truthful about communications that preceded the announcement of the store's closure.

The political pettiness that ensued — in council chambers — speaks to a serious power struggle between Mayor Bill Foster and others ill equipped to lead.

Then comes word that senior city administrators failed to scrutinize the finances of Urban Development Solutions, led by Larry Newsome, before giving the green light to a partnership to bring a Sylvia's Queen of Soul Food restaurant to the Manhattan Casino.

As recently as December, some members of the City Council were slaphappy to seal the deal — save for Jim Kennedy, who questioned the 11th-hour changes to the license agreement, especially since the city attorney failed to preview the documents before the council voted to approve it.

How long will taxpayers have to endure this tail-wagging-the-dog style of leadership?

To be clear, Foster shouldn't have to take all the blame. Council members, senior administrators and the legal eagles should shoulder a good portion of this festering plague of ineptitude.

Despite the fiscal missteps, there are a few glimpses of progress coming to Midtown — thanks to St. Petersburg College and a few independent investors.

In the meantime, taxpayers should keep score of all the nonsense to determine the best next steps in August.

A local win-win

There are more positive signs of progress elsewhere.

Keep Saint Petersburg Local, a business alliance, is joining forces with C1 Bank, an independent, St. Petersburg-based bank.

The alliance recently celebrated its first anniversary with a festive bash of like-minded business owners and patrons in the same locale in which the group launched — at the trendy Nova 535 at 535 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N.

Under the arrangement, the alliance will encourage its 300 member businesses to switch their accounts to C1 Bank.

The bank, in exchange, has offered to pay the $100 dues for each new or renewing alliance member.

If successful, it could mean a $30,000 windfall for the nonprofit that is affiliated with the American Independent Business Alliance, which supports independent small businesses.

Eye-popping street art

Sebastian Coolidge isn't a household name in the Sunshine City, but it should be.

The talented young street artist's work is quite impressive and is beginning to dot the landscape, including large concrete planters along the Central Arts District — Central Avenue between Fourth and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. streets — a stretch that features a host of galleries, including the 600 Block, the Morean Arts Center and the Florida Craftsmen Gallery.

The works of the Kansas City, Mo., native, mostly murals, can be seen throughout downtown — in a hotel, a hair salon, restaurant and a trendy new bar in the district.

Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at sgadsden@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8874 and on Twitter at @StPeteSandi.

Midtown missteps reveal weak city leadership 02/02/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 1, 2013 1:30pm]

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