Friday, February 23, 2018
Editorials

Times recommends: Vote yes on St. Petersburg referendums

In addition to the Penny for Pinellas referendum, St. Petersburg voters will find three other ballot questions on the Nov. 7 ballot. None of them are controversial, and all of them should be approved.

Charter amendment

The St. Petersburg city charter bans City Council members from directing or requesting the appointment or removal of city employees except for certain senior management, which is as exactly as it should be in the strong-mayor form of government. However, council members should be allowed greater latitude in expressing their individual opinions about the mayor's personnel decisions.

This charter amendment would allow council members to individually express their opinions about the mayor's creation of new management positions. It also would allow them to express opinions about hiring or firing staff who work for the council, and about appointments to city boards or commissions.

On the St. Petersburg city charter amendment, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting Yes.

Referendum 1: Walter Fuller Park

Since 2009, the nonprofit St. Petersburg Baseball Commission has operated and maintained a city-owned baseball complex at Walter Fuller Park through a series of short-term leases. If voters approve this referendum, the city could negotiate a long-term lease with the baseball commission of up to 20 years in return for the commission investing at least $300,000 in improvements. Any long-term lease would have to be approved by at least six members of the eight-member City Council.

This continues to be a good public-private partnership. This referendum has nothing to do with a proposal two years ago to build an 1,800-seat baseball stadium at Walter Fuller with county resort tax money, which went nowhere. Any concerns involving noise, parking or other issues could be addressed in negotiations for a long-term lease with the baseball commission. On St. Petersburg Referendum No. 1 involving Walter Fuller Park, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting Yes.

Referendum 2: Vinoy Resort

This referendum would enable the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club to elevate eight tennis courts by one story to create space for about 270 parking spaces underneath on land behind the hotel. A one-story parking garage with tennis courts on top should not be controversial and would mirror the existing parking and elevated tennis courts next to it.

More than three decades ago, voters approved an exchange of property with the city along the downtown waterfront that helped spur the reopening of the historic Vinoy hotel in 1992. The swap included restrictions on the 4.3 acres traded to the hotel to be kept as recreation open space such as tennis courts. In 1997 and in 2007, voters allowed part of the property to be used as a ballroom, health club, parking under elevated tennis courts and other improvements. This referendum would allow parking below elevated tennis courts on 2.3 acres now covered by ground-level tennis courts — and nothing else.

When it reopened, the Vinoy helped spark the city's downtown revival. There is a public interest in its continued success, and this additional parking would not be intrusive or alter the character of the property. On St. Petersburg Referendum No. 2 involving the Vinoy, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting Yes.

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