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Should city extend Bay Plaza contract? Yes and no

When contracts are implemented, there are certain representations made by both parties. In the case of Bay Plaza, the city was willing to surrender city streets, agree to lease a parking garage for 20 years and to grant exclusive developmental rights to Bay Plaza. The city did so because Bay Plaza was the subsidiary of the J. C. Nichols Co. of Kansas City, a financially solid and experienced developer. The Bay Plaza principals stated that because of their highly successful retail operation in Kansas City, they could develop a million square feet in St. Petersburg, including high-end anchor tenants.

Several years ago the Nichols Co. was purchased largely by the employees in a leveraged buyout. According to media reports, revenues have plunged. Now there is a struggle for control of the company between the Nichols stockholders and Allen & Co., minority stockholders associated with former Bay Plaza president Bob Jackson. Lynn McCarthy, chief executive officer of Nichols, has been ousted. According to a June 7 report by the Kansas City Star, Allen & Co. has asked for a receiver to protect the company's assets. The trial has been postponed from June 26 to Sept. 5.

With the recession, the retail industry collapsed. As the industry recovers, the major retailers have been much more prone to go to shopping malls. Brandon TownCenter recently opened, and Saks Fifth Avenue has just announced that it will open a smaller store in Sarasota. San Diego, San Antonio, Texas, and New Orleans all have retail developments that closely border their downtown core areas.

The next proposal was for 24 theaters. While the concept of downtown theaters was generally endorsed, almost all the people I spoke with were skeptical of 24. When asked where there were 24 in a city our size, we heard about Dallas, with 13 acres of parking and a population of more than a million plus the large adjacent metropolitan area including Fort Worth. The banks to date have not been willing to lend on this premise. The project clearly needs to be redefined, and Bay Plaza president Jack Fox has said that.

Bay Plaza is now saying that because there is a need for housing downtown that perhaps it will incorporate housing into its plan. Higher density development would help to offset the excessive costs of acquiring property using the eminent domain process. The latter should not have been a surprise to anyone. Did we not have the National Bar acquisition as a model? Additionally, prominent local developers such as the Vinoy and Southeast Capital groups have been holding back on projects because their marketing studies have told them the market is not yet there. The prospects for downtown housing have improved and it may be that a housing component would be a reasonable proposal. But Marty Normile is correct when he states that "successful redevelopment is not driven by contract deadlines but rather by complex economic and market conditions." Neither should it be driven by higher land costs. Bay Plaza clearly needs the time to develop such a plan.

Terminating the contract would simply allow Bay Plaza Cos. to proceed as any other developer would. It can develop its plans in the private sector and come forward to the appropriate boards or City Council for any specific variance or parking agreements needed. The Board of Realtors, among others, has issued a statement that supports this position.

The public is clearly frustrated and annoyed with the endless extensions and city commitments. Bay Plaza has been unable to fulfill its promises; the city should not continue to be obligated. The contract extension again prohibits the city from exploring any other developmental proposals. Allowing the contract to go into the unwind process gives both the city and Bay Plaza the space to review their options.

With the coming of baseball and the success of the Florida International Museum, there is no question that development will take place downtown. This is a goal that we all share. Bay Plaza is the key issue that continues to divide us. Allowing Bay Plaza to proceed in the private sector appears to be the most reasonable alternative.

Connie Kone, council member, St. Petersburg

The Bay Plaza request for an extension has generated considerable discourse in our town. I have received letters supporting an extension and others requesting me to vote to terminate the project. There is a telephone campaign against Bay Plaza. When I receive those calls, I ask the callers to advise me how they want the city to develop the area post-Bay Plaza. Most of the callers have no idea as to what should be done. However, they repeat that eight is enough.

Several months ago, I was told that there were others who wished to secure downtown land after Bay Plaza had been eliminated. I was also advised that those groups did not have deep pockets and would find it impossible to get financing for a large project.

Of interest in this area was a letter I received dated June 19 from Jean Stacey, co-president of Hands On! Inc., telling me that they are developing the Parsley-Stone Arcade immediately west of the State Theater on Central Avenue. Her group wants Bay Plaza booted.

In my discussions with two of your newspaper reporters, we have touched on the political ramifications. To date, none of this has been reported. However, in the paper there is a headline and story concerning individuals who may run for Peter Wallace's seat, should he not run (Race for House seat shaping up, Saturday). One of those mentioned is Margo Fischer, our mayor's wife. Also noted was that she had consulted political consultant Mary Repper.

David and Margo Fischer are very capable individuals and would and do serve our area well. However, if consultant Repper did not suggest they heal their breach with the Curtsinger supporters, she failed to advise them properly. I do not imply that Mayor Fischer's effort to terminate the Bay Plaza contract is politically motivated. However, it can only help them. It is important our citizens be aware of the political winds.

Another question your reporters asked was whether City Council chairwoman Leslie Curran was politically motivated in her demand of Bay Plaza that they come up PDQ with a plan to involve the citizens. This plan might be workable if it does not include Bay Plaza haters. Leslie Curran is a good council chairwoman and I believe would make a good mayor. She, in addition to her city position, is completing her degree at Eckerd College. However, all of the council was spanked recently in one of your editorials. Since then we each have received a communication advising that we are goners.

Anyone wishing to serve another term, or office, as an elected official cannot afford to offend a vocal public. This includes Leslie Curran and others.

P. S. I intend to vote for the extension requested by Bay Plaza Cos. If it does not come up with a satisfactory plan in six months, it is over. At this time it is the best chance we have for success and has spent $37-million on this project.

Edward L. Cole Jr., District 4 council member, St. Petersburg

The majority of the residents of Placido Bayou agree with Mayor David Fischer and are opposed to extending the contract with the Bay Plaza Cos.

Regardless of the reasons given by Bay Plaza officials as to why the project has failed to materialize, the heart of the matter is that it has, and it appears reasonable to assume that more time will only compound the failure and the frustrations of the citizens.

The council now has an opportunity to take positive action to resolve the dilemma. Vote against the extension. Hire professional consultants. Survey the residents to see what they want downtown. Form a select, citizens committee to take suggestions from all sources and come up with a viable plan to present to the council.

This can be the beginning of providing a downtown St. Petersburg that will have vitality, attraction and the interest of both residents and visitors.

Call it "Challenge 2000" _ St. Petersburg Gets Ready for a New Century!

Warren J. Papin, vice president, Placido Bayou

Community Association Inc., St. Petersburg