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Business groups are more forgiving of Bay Plaza

The neighborhoods say no, but the business community says yes.

Two days after the city's main neighborhoods group rejected the proposal by Bay Plaza Cos. for extending its redevelopment agreement with the city, Bay Plaza won the support of the two business development groups. The boards of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and St. Petersburg Progress jointly endorsed the extension plan Friday.

"The city in recent times has progressed so far that we don't want to take two steps back," said John Higgins, president of the St. Petersburg Chamber board.

The endorsement was expected and followed the recommendation earlier this week from a special task force from the two groups. But at a time when Bay Plaza is struggling to maintain its fragile majority voting block on the City Council, any public show of support helps.

The eight-member City Council will hold a public hearing Thursday on the Bay Plaza agreement, and three council members have indicated they oppose the extension. Bay Plaza needs the support of at least five council members to extend and revamp its contract. One swing flip from a supporter could kill its efforts.

Local business representatives talked Friday about the economy hampering Bay Plaza's efforts over the past few years, about the millions the master redeveloper already has invested in the city, and about how the alternative to extending the contract is a nine-month "cool-down" period in which nothing might happen.

"No one that I've heard yet that wants to unwind it has an idea for getting us out of this dilemma," said former chamber president David Wilbanks, who credits Bay Plaza with at least creating some momentum for downtown business activity.

Wilbanks served on an eight-member "Bay Plaza Task Force," whose recommendations to the chamber and St. Petersburg Progress boards mirrored the Bay Plaza proposal in most every detail.

The new agreement would pave the way for a series of extensions up to 21 months. The first one would be a six-month period for Bay Plaza to overhaul its development plan and then come back to the city for up to three months of review.

On Wednesday, the Council of Neighborhood Associations voted to oppose Bay Plaza's extension.