The St. Petersburg City Council should take a step forward today toward envisioning the future of the city's prized waterfront, but it needs to simultaneously make sure it doesn't close out any viable options in the process. The council should approve a well-conceived one-year contract to help develop the voter-required Downtown Waterfront Master Plan. But it should hold off on locking the city into a longer management contract for Al Lang Stadium, which sits smack in the middle of the master plan area. The community has many decisions to make over the next year about the waterfront's future, and it makes no sense to create potential complications to exploring the exciting possibilities.
St. Petersburg voters in 2011 amended the city charter to require the creation of a Downtown Waterfront Master Plan by 2015. In February, the public heard from a panel of experts from the Urban Land Institute that offered some provocative ideas about what should happen on the waterfront — such as demolishing Al Lang to make way for some kind of multiuse facility that would be better utilized now that baseball spring training is long gone.
Mayor Rick Kriseman is asking the council members to approve a $495,000 contract with the Orlando office of the global consulting firm AECOM Technical Services to develop the master plan using ULI's report as well as research still to be done and suggestions from the public that are still to be gathered. Most notable in a city still dealing with a botched effort to replace the Pier: The proposed contract includes a 14-page addendum that spells out an elaborate four-stage process that will include multiple opportunities for public input at each stage. The consulting firm will be required to do everything from building a social media operation to gather suggestions to holding numerous meetings throughout the coming year with the public, stakeholders and city officials. The council is supposed to adopt a master plan by July 1, 2015.
While the council should approve that contract today, it should reject a request for contract extensions by the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission, which operates Al Lang and the Walter Fuller facility. The commission is seeking to extend the Al Lang contract from September 2016 to December 2018 and the Walter Fuller contract from September 2013 to December 2016.
This request comes after recent complaints from the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team that Al Lang was not being maintained and as Rowdies' owner Bill Edwards has expressed interest in taking over the operations of Walter Fuller when the contract expires in September. Kriseman has recommended two options to the council: deny both extension requests and put the Walter Fuller facility's operations up for bid; or just extend the Walter Fuller contract to end in September 2016, concurrent with the Al Lang contract.
Kriseman's first recommendation, to simply deny the extension requests, is the better one. But most important is that the council not commit the city to a longer-term partnership at Al Lang. That site is one of the primary puzzle pieces in the city's future waterfront, and having it available starting in 2016 is near perfect timing. Progress requires proper preparation, and the council can begin today.