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United by a question: What of the waterfront?

They met for the first time to craft a plan to beautify and unify the city's downtown waterfront.

They were all there: Dennis Sexton, president of All Children's Hospital; Marty Normile, executive vice president of St. Petersburg Progress; Bill Griffith, manager of The Pier; Peter Betzer, chairman of the University of South Florida's Marine Science department. There were Lee Metzger, Steve Kurcan and Jan Norsoph with the city, Jopi Helsen and Hubert Caulfield, owners of marine businesses on Salt Creek, Capt. Roy Casto of the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Bayboro, Tom Wilson of Florida Progress.

What did these 55-or-so people at the Port Terminal meeting room Thursday have in common?

A vested interest in St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront. They're "stakeholders." Led by airport/port director Floyd Glisson, the group proved that something called an Intermodal Planning Committee can be lively and interesting.

"Intermodal" in this case refers to transportation, and the committee has been formed, Glisson said, to tie in air and water transportation at Albert Whitted Airport and the Port of St. Petersburg to the downtown area, through walkways and wheels, whether bus, trolley or other conveyance.

A $10,000 grant for a conceptual plan and a $50,000 grant to update a port master plan, both from the Department of Transportation, will be used in the endeavor.

Glisson emphasized that the committee will work closely with Bay Plaza and the city to make sure plans mesh with other downtown redevelopment efforts.

The group was full of ideas, both for the development of the waterfront area in general and the tie-in and enhancement of the area between the port and the heart of the city.

A shuttle was mentioned as most important to connect the port to downtown. Jan Norsoph of the city's Planning Department noted that there was not enough of a critical mass of people in the area to support running a shuttle.

The group assembled seemed dedicated to developing such a critical mass.

Hubert Caulfield, owner of Caulfield Marine, encouraged the group to look past the immediate port and airport area to include the colorful waterfront marine industry. "Many times, when we pull a boat out of the water, we'll draw a crowd of 10 or 12 people," he said. He referred to ports in other cities where restaurants capitalize on the view of such activities.

Glisson mentioned the fact that 54 percent of the people who fly into Whitted are going to the Salvador Dali Museum, and Dali representative Wayne Atherholt was very aware that a high percentage of the museum's 500,000 visitors were fly-ins. "They complain because they can't identify the museum from the air." A remedy for this, and better signage in general, was suggested.

While a landscaped walkway from the port to downtown St. Petersburg is definitely in the works, an overall plan developed in 1986 and referred to by several people attending the meeting, embraces hospital buildings since erected and the campus of the University of South Florida. It includes a waterfront walkway from Coffee Pot Bayou at about 18th Avenue NE to the far end of Lassing Park at 22nd Avenue NE.

"If you're going to develop the port area," Frank Blandford of Tourtelot Brothers Realty, "make it look tropical. I look out here and, for gosh sakes, it looks like Tampa." He referred to buildings, fences and one or two oak trees.

Pier manager Bill Griffith inquired about the likelihood of dredging the channel in Tampa Bay deeper to allow bigger cruise ships in to St. Petersburg. Glisson has been in contact with the Corps of Engineers and is appealing its stand against dredging for recreational purposes, which would include cruise ships. Grounds for his appeal is that tourism is as much a business as any other industry.

Helsen, owner of Sailor's Wharf Inc. said, "The future in St. Petersburg is not cruise ships. It's mega-yachts." Helsen organized Sail St. Petersburg last year, has been negotiating with the American Sail Advancement Program and hopes to have a "major announcement" in mid-November for an expo in St. Petersburg that cold draw thousands and become an international attraction.

Tom Wilson of Florida Progress came to the group for suggestions. The company's Bayboro plant, the red brick behemoth at 13th Avenue and Second Street S, has long been empty.

"It'll cost us a half-million to tear it down and a million to fix it up," Wilson said. "We have from 23 to 28 acres there."

Glisson said the most important result of the meetings was "public awareness of surrounding stakeholders as to what we have planned, and the opening of dialogue as to the master planning process."

He met Friday morning with representatives of Post, Buckley, Schuh & Jernigan, port and airport engineers with headquarters in Tampa. The Florida Center for Community Design and Research at the University of South Florida will design the intermodal plan, financed by the $10,000 DOT grant.