Of BayWalk, Pier and Rays stadium issues, only one shows any smooth progress

Well over a year ago, I wrote that three pressing issues for 2011 were BayWalk, the Pier and the Tampa Bay Rays stadium. At the time, the City Council was under the new leadership of Jim Kennedy and Karl Nurse. Fast forward to today — more than 18 months later — and it seems those three issues are still center stage for residents in the Sunshine City. And sadly, there are few answers for most of the questions.

Of the three, BayWalk seems to show some progress. The new look of the downtown retail complex, since current owner Bill Edwards tore down its facade, has made it seem more open and inviting.

Last week we learned a bit more about progress there, thanks to the stealthy research of Times reporter Katherine Snow Smith.

A gourmet market and high-end restaurants would be welcome additions to downtown, but are they enough to draw hordes of residents there? Only time will tell. But at least it's a start.

Next up is the Pier. This issue has turned into a dogfight.

Forget the public square; the arguments have gone viral.

Make a point in favor or against the Pier on Facebook and you might get your nose bitten off, depending on who your "friends" are. (LOL!)

This issue has been on the table for quite some time. Let's see, there were at least 65 meetings on the new design, an appointed task force and countless hours of wasted time and money.

Here's what has transpired over the years:

• In 1978, the city spent $1.35 million on repairs.

• In 1986, the facility underwent a $12.5 million facelift.

• In 2006, city officials announced tax increment financing for $50 million for the Pier's restoration.

• In 2009, the city agreed to pay Bermello Ajamil & Partners $143,000 to develop activities and cost estimates for reconstruction or replacement options at the Pier.

According to a 2000 study by the Klages Group, the city and county spend about $2.1 million a year to run the facility.

The council has voted to demolish the upside-down landmark and spend about $50 million on a new structure.

A 2010 poll found that respondents were split on that plan, with 27 percent unsure. And 69 percent were against the plan to spend the $50 million on a new Pier.

At this point, it is safe to say that no matter what is eventually decided, a faction of the community is going to be upset.

No matter what the City Council or voters decide, the current structure should come down.

Rumors are rampant that the core of the Pier is rock solid. According to city officials, this "core" is roughly a 60-by-60-foot space, which can't support the elevators or shops in the current facility.

How much more time and money are taxpayers willing to waste while the Pier quietly crumbles into Tampa Bay?

The city's sanitation trucks can't retrieve garbage from the iconic structure. That's how bad it is.

Finally, the issue of keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in the area is a much larger conundrum.

First there's the unhappy owner, who wants out of the Trop.

Then there's Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council, who have spent far more time bickering about leadership or being left in the dark about the Rays than leading on this issue.

Attendance is still lackluster, and there are enough naysayers complaining about the lack of support from the fans and the business community on ESPN and in the Major League Baseball commissioner's office to go around.

Meanwhile, a charismatic mayor from across the pond has been flirting with the team.

Let's hope our city leaders can form a united front in an effort to make informed decisions that will result in a positive solution that works for the taxpayers and the team.

• • •

Speaking of making informed decisions, today's edition of the St. Pete Times includes the Know Your Candidates feature, focusing on local races in the Aug. 14 primaries.

In addition to choosing leaders in both houses of Congress, there are elections for County Commission and sheriff. The nonpartisan races include circuit and county judge and School Board races.

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

TO ADVERTISE: Contact Andi Gordon at (727) 893-8698 or agordon@tampabay.com.

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Of BayWalk, Pier and Rays stadium issues, only one shows any smooth progress 07/28/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 28, 2012 5:32am]

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