The recent incident at a popular family-friendly park has residents wondering if St. Petersburg police should beef up security there.
The city lists 20 specialty parks on its website, most of which include a host of amenities. But Dell Holmes Park at 2741 22nd St. S, where the incident occurred, has been a hidden gem.
The park is nestled on the northern end of Lake Maggiore and is one of the few in the city that offer lots of shade near key areas where children play. The park is named in honor of the late Litdell Holmes Jr., the city's parks director from 1983 to 2003.
The 22-acre park features a fitness trail, driving range and putting green, picnic shelters with grills, a gazebo and a fishing pier. The addition of a splash pad has brought more young families, who make the trek to the park from throughout the city.
The quiet seclusion of the park is perfect for playdates and morning romps. And now we know that the seclusion and foliage were a perfect opportunity for the vermin among us.
Monday's armed robbery may serve as a clarion call for residents who want a splash pad feature near the Pier approach.
City Council member Karl Nurse said last week that a splash park at Spa Beach is just what's needed. His request was unrelated to Monday's incident.
Nurse proposed tapping into the Weeki Wachee fund for the $300,000 enhancement to the new Pier.
Others could argue that a bad economy is not the best of times to consider such a perk. But when a young mother is threatened in the manner that Michelle Smith was Monday morning, it's understandable why she has vowed to never return to the park.
Should the city add security cameras to the parks to ensure safety?
"There's all kinds of talk about cameras in several parks," said police spokesman Mike Puetz. "But not there. Since this latest event, the subject has come up. But Dell Holmes Park hasn't been an issue."
City officials caution that residents shouldn't jump to conclusions about the park and surrounding areas. Puetz added that the neighbors near the park have been active in the community.
"Isolated incidents can take place anywhere,'' he said.
On Thursday, I paid a visit to the park.
While there, I met Jillian Mutti, who brought her children, 6 months and 4 years old, to the park specifically for the splash pad.
Mutti, who lives in Lakewood Estates, was unaware of the armed robbery that took place days earlier.
News of the incident didn't appear to deter her.
"It's the best park, especially if you just want to get the kids out of the house to run around on the splash pad," she said.
Some parents prefer to come early in the day during the week, Mutti said.
"On the weekends it's so packed, and I have to really keep an eye out for him (her son) with so many people out here," she said.
Mutti added that older kids frequent the park later in the day, which explains why families with younger kids go in the morning.
Like Mutti, city officials say they don't think the park is in a problematic area.
"At this point I consider it an anomaly," said Puetz. "We did have one incident and we've had calls for service, mainly family gatherings that got out of hand, but it is not one of our problem areas."
He said the park is well patrolled, even though it appears to be secluded.
The Police Department's canine compound is within eyesight of the park. There are other city departments just south of the park. Puetz says that because the park is so popular, not just at the splash pad but at the driving range and the fishing pier, that there's usually a strong presence of adults with cellphones who could call for help at a moment's notice.
Here's hoping he's right.
Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at [email protected] or at (727) 893-8874.