The south side of the former Bank of America building at 830 Central Ave. is about to get a new tenant: a Social Security Administration office for hearings and appeals.
In recent years, the site was slated for the Arts, a two-block development between Eighth and Dr. Martin L. King Jr. streets and First avenues N and S. The 35-story project, including 503 condominium units, was in the planning stages when the economy soured.
According to the Social Security Administration's third-quarter report, it expects to receive an additional 350,000 first-time disability claims for fiscal year 2010 because the recession is having a deeper impact than expected.
The report also said the agency will be hiring administrative law judges to help with the increase in claims.
It is unclear if the Social Security office at 391 34th St. N will move into the new facility as well.
Until the new offices open later this year, Pinellas residents must still travel to Tampa for a hearing.
Pier Task Force needs new members, ideas
The Pier needs a breath of fresh air.
During a visit to the Times editorial board last week, former St. Petersburg Mayor Randy Wedding, chairman of the Pier Task Force, said the panel has found that 70 percent of residents seem to want the iconic structure to remain, and 30 percent prefer to tear it down.
The city's annual cost to maintain the Pier and its approach is $500,000, which doesn't include an annual $1.5 million subsidy. The approach to the attraction has been in disrepair for at least 35 years.
Several proposed concepts for the longtime attraction are making the rounds of public forums, and their price tags range from $56 million to $78 million, Wedding said.
Wedding said he has served on three similar Pier panels, adding that he would likely not serve on a fourth.
Therein lies the problem.
Former Mayor Rick Baker appointed members to this task force more than a year ago. Its charge: Explore the options and make recommendations to the City Council.
At the public forum Tuesday night at the Enoch Davis Center, where the task force listened to residents' input, one thing became clear: The panel needs some new blood.
This is certainly not to suggest that the services of Wedding and company aren't appreciated. But come on. Three tours of duty by Wedding and millions of dollars later, the city is still looking for answers.
To be sure, there are some wonderful ideas being exchanged at the forums, and the task force has been presented with a host of other schemes, including some that didn't make the cut, like the proposals for a Ferris wheel or water park.
What was most striking was that there doesn't appear to be one person under 40 serving on the task force.
Considering the demographic shift in this city, including an influx of college students at USF St. Petersburg as well as countless talented, creative working professionals who are new to the area, the task force clearly needs some fresh blood.
The panel is filled to the brim with the usual suspects, or "boarders" — through the years they've serve on countless other boards — who continue to recycle the same old ideas.
Lining the current Pier approach with exhibits is not the answer.
And Wedding is correct in this assessment: "A big shift in the paradigm is needed for commercial retail to work" at the Pier.
It speaks to why some say the city will never shake its small-town image, a la Mayberry of The Andy Griffith Show.
The next public forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at the J.W. Cate Center, 5801 22nd Ave. N. From there, the matter goes to the City Council.
Sandra J. Gadsden is editor of Neighborhood Times. She can be reached at (727) 893-8874 or [email protected]