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St. Pete City Council looks at early voting for 2023, pushes back on municipal marina

It’s too late to have early voting for the Nov. 2 election, but it could happen in time for the next city election.
Cracking is shown on both center beams of the St. Petersburg municipal marina's west end main walkway span. City officials displayed the photo during a presentation to City Council's public service and infrastructure committee on Thursday. Officials would like council members to approve ordering a cost estimate to see how much it would cost the city to redevelop the marina rather than outsourcing the job to a third party, like Safe Harbor Land Development.
Cracking is shown on both center beams of the St. Petersburg municipal marina's west end main walkway span. City officials displayed the photo during a presentation to City Council's public service and infrastructure committee on Thursday. Officials would like council members to approve ordering a cost estimate to see how much it would cost the city to redevelop the marina rather than outsourcing the job to a third party, like Safe Harbor Land Development. [ City of St. Petersburg ]
Published Oct. 14
Updated Oct. 14

ST. PETERSBURG — Members of the St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday were shown slide after slide of large cracks, exposed steel and erosion around and under the municipal marina.

City officials wanted to make a case at the public safety and infrastructure committee meeting for moving quickly on improvements to the marina. A year has passed since Safe Harbor Development put a $30 million price tag on redeveloping the marina, and they wanted to show how much it has deteriorated since then.

In August, Mayor Rick Kriseman tried to pitch the city council on giving a 25-year lease to the Tennessee developer, but the council unanimously voted it down. Instead, council members wanted to explore the cost of renovating the marina on the city’s dime, thereby keeping operation of the marina under city control.

On Thursday, city officials proposed contracting with McLaren Technical Services to provide the council with a cost estimate, which would update the extent of repairs needed for the marina and estimate a timeline for construction.

They want council next week to approve spending $177,000 on the cost estimate, which would be ready in early 2022. But the city warned that if the council wanted to go that route, it would have to start from scratch, and it would take 25 months to begin construction.

“We are at the point now that the Safe Harbor team was at months ago,” said Brejesh Prayman, the city’s director of engineering and capital improvements. “We’ve tried our best to look at apples to apples, but there’s not truly an apples-to-apples [comparison].”

Some council members rejected the implication that council was to blame for the marina’s deterioration. During the presentation, the city said the cost estimate idea came “in light of Council’s failure to approve the agreement with Safe Harbor Land Development.”

Council member Gina Driscoll called that a poor choice of words.

“It wasn’t a failure. It was a decision,” she said. “Today, this is hopefully the first of a new conversation of how we should move forward.”

Driscoll pointed out that the city knew of the marina’s poor conditions in 2016 and never put out a request for proposals to fix it.

“This didn’t start until we received an unsolicited proposal. That just feels a little bit strange to me and a bit negligent on the part of the city that we saw these problems back then and sat on it,” Driscoll said.

Deputy mayor Kanika Tomalin said it was always the city’s intent to do a request for proposals, but then it received the unsolicited proposal from Safe Harbor.

Council members and city officials had a more pleasant exchange when discussing how to implement early voting for municipal elections. It’s too late to do that for the upcoming Nov. 2 election, but the city could change that for the 2023 elections.

The council would have to pass a resolution to implement early voting and approve funding to make it happen. Assistant city attorney Brett Pettigrew said the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections said it would cost the city $312,000 to have early voting per election.

The whole council will take up the matter after the Nov. 2 election on Nov. 4 and Nov. 29, so as not to confuse voters.

“Even if it does cost $300,000 to do an extra election, it’s so important we do the most flexible and accommodating form of democracy to have people exercise their fundamental right to vote,” said council member Darden Rice, who called for the measure.

Rice also asked about moving the city’s elections to the mid-term election cycle, with statewide races on the ballot. She said she’d like to see a ballot referendum in November 2022 that addresses the pros and cons of making that shift.

“That would be a great way to perhaps increase turnout in municipal elections,” Rice said.

In a letter to municipalities on Thursday, the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections said in-conjunction elections result in higher turnout and lower costs. The City of Seminole saw a 279 percent voter turnout increase and saved 84 percent on election costs.