1. Archive

Yet more thoughts, good and bad, on Bay Plaza

Re: Extension of contract with Bay Plaza Cos.

The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance is an ecumenical body of clergy and religious leaders who for many years have championed the cause of residents who live in the inner city. The purpose of this letter is to share our insights and concerns regarding the current debate about the extension of the development contract between the city and Bay Plaza Cos.

During the past eight years, Bay Plaza officials and members of the IMA have met regularly to discuss the economic impact of downtown redevelopment and the potential job and business opportunities for people of color. We can only speak positively when we note their courtesy, openness and sensitivity to the concerns of the African-American community. Based on our association with Bay Plaza Cos., we can make the following observations:

Bay Plaza financially contributed to many of our community efforts. Proceeds from the sale of furniture and other household items donated by Bay Plaza helped to fund IMA mission efforts.

For several years, Bay Plaza has offered a summer youth internship for minority youth.

The company has remained committed to an aggressive affirmative-action program.

Thousands of dollars in appliances and furniture such as air conditioners, beds, dressers and chairs were donated to IMA for distribution to needy families.

We realize that emotions are running high and the pressure is on to bring some closure to the project. Rightfully so, the residents and taxpayers of St. Petersburg want to see steady progress and growth in our downtown. Much of the debate has centered around the disappointments, frustrations and bad feelings brought about by eight years of missed deadlines, delayed construction projects and empty retail space. However, most observers fail to acknowledge the fact that Bay Plaza Cos. and the city of St. Petersburg are in partnership.

Individuals and groups who openly call for Bay Plaza's ouster would seem to suggest that one-half of this partnership, Bay Plaza Cos., is solely responsible for the current state of affairs in downtown redevelopment. The obvious answer to this dilemma is to discard the defective part of the partnership. Conventional wisdom would agree that this is the proper course of action. However, in light of the fact that the city's involvement in this partnership has not been adequately elucidated in this debate, it is our opinion that this action is hasty and shortsighted. Should we now throw out the kid with the bath water? We think not.

Numerous factors have combined to affect the completion of this project. Pointing the finger solely at Bay Plaza amounts to nothing more than an attempt to find a scapegoat. It would seem that Bay Plaza's ouster at this juncture would only serve to delay the project even further and take us well beyond the 18-month period Bay Plaza is suggesting. Given the nature of this partnership and Bay Plaza's investment in this project and in the community, we believe an extension within the 18-month time frame suggested should be granted.

For years St. Petersburg has struggled to erase the negative image brought about by projects gone belly-up and failed attempts to attract a major-league baseball team. With the recent acquisition of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, it appears that St. Petersburg has finally broken the grip of bad luck. Now is not the time to shift into reverse.

Bishop John Copeland, president

Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance

St. Petersburg

Re: Downtown redevelopment.

Congratulations to the Times and to the mayor for their welcome change of attitude concerning the redevelopment of downtown and the city's relationship with Bay Plaza.

Twenty years ago I was stationed here with the Navy. I found many older folks, but I also found a thriving, prosperous, vibrant town along with an industrious younger population. When I came back to live here in 1990, I didn't find St. Petersburg, but a suburb of some place called Tampa Bay. The city had lost its image.

The city's main resources are the waterfront and beaches, the excellent weather and a certain quaintness that is getting hard to find in most cities. Perhaps we should capitalize on these resources and try to return the city to its former image, including green benches and taxpaying retirees. That is, after all, what we did best.

If the funds earmarked for Bay Plaza could be used to help promote the construction of both single-family residences and apartments, the people would return downtown, and restaurants and businesses would surely follow.

K. Mike Crombie, St. Petersburg

I just wanted to express my disgust with the City Council on its recent vote to give yet again another long extension to Bay Plaza. When are the council people going to wake up and smell reality? Hasn't this city wasted enough time and money on a project that now is headed nowhere?

And why is the council still allowed to vote on major decisions like this? I thought we had voted on a strong mayor to take these matters into his own hands. What is the point of a strong mayor if the City Council is walking all over him?

Shame on all of you for wasting taxpayers' money. I hope we don't forget when re-election time comes around.

Anthony Donofrio, St. Petersburg

What do we have to do to stop this insensitive city council from throwing more good money after bad to continue with Bay Plaza? I don't want my tax money thrown away on such a project. Can't this be put to a vote by the people? What right does this small group have, the same group that was so gung-ho for the "Dumb Dome," to have only what it wants against the wishes of the majority of people here? What we really need is a city council sensitive to the desires of the majority of us.

Louise Gallagher, St. Petersburg

Re: Bay Plaza contract extension.

I say let them stay! They have an advantage over the city as they own those vacant, valuable lots, which they paid big for. So, what can be done now except give them a chance to build? They can't be forced to sell them and they can hinder all future development.

Alberta G. Parsons

St. Petersburg

I am writing to offer some suggestions for making downtown St. Petersburg more successful.

My wife and I own separately, and reside in, two adjoining apartments in Bayfront Tower and have two parking spaces in the building. Each apartment owner is entitled to one parking space. As you may know, the address for the building is One Beach Drive SE. I believe the building is fully occupied. It is clearly a successful location.

My suggestions are as follows:

1. The abandonment of the proposed 24-screen movie complex across Central Avenue is fortunate for Bayfront Tower. Some of the likely customers would lessen the refinement of the neighborhood.

2. Electrically powered buses, with special features, running on Central Avenue between First Street N (downtown) and the gulf beaches in an almost straight line would be a great encouragement for residents north and south of Central Avenue to leave their cars and ride downtown to shop.

3. A small passenger depot at Central Avenue and First Street near the center of the large tract now owned and cleared would be in a two-story building. Parking spaces with meters would use all of the second floor and part of the inside ground area. Some inner area on ground level would be used for loading and unloading passengers and for installing or recharging batteries for the buses. Shopping spaces facing the streets would be rented for a joint barber shop and beauty parlor, physicians' and other professional offices, and specialty shops, such as men's and women's shoes, dresses, etc.

4. The electrically powered buses would have these features: floors only one step above the street, electrically controlled ramps to ease the entry and exit of wheelchairs, and flexible handrails to extend to the sidewalk to protect passengers approaching or leaving the bus and return to the side of the bus when not in use.

5. To enhance the identity of the building that houses the downtown bus terminal, the abutting sidewalks could be covered with red bricks and the usual sidewalk grass plots could be replaced with plots of flowers.

I hope these suggestions will be helpful.

I am a retired trust officer and lawyer; I have worked for banks in Detroit, New York City just off Wall Street, Georgia and St. Petersburg, and engaged in the private practice of law in St. Petersburg. I am 93 years of age. Most other residents of Bayfront Tower (29 floors) are much younger than I.

Thomas T. Dunn, St. Petersburg