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St. Petersburg public shows interest in only small changes to waterfront

Published Nov. 14, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — Anyone hoping for a radical makeover on the city's waterfront likely left disappointed from a public meeting held Thursday at the Vinoy Renaissance resort.

As consultants wrapped up the public input portion on the master plan for nearly 7 miles of Tampa Bay shoreline between Coffee Pot Bayou and Lassing Park, they didn't unveil any grand plans for notable landmarks such as Albert Whitted Airport, Al Lang Stadium or the port.

Over two months of public workshops, walking audits, stakeholder meetings and online comments revealed a desire for more modest tweaks: water fountains, better access between Demen's Landing and Lassing Park, and more activities to draw people to the water's edge.

A few big ideas were floated: a Ferris wheel, for instance. Or ripping up surface parking lots. Restaurants. Even hammocks.

Also bubbling to the fore: an interest in more transient boat slips and better breakwaters to protect the docks — all with an eye to attracting Tampa boaters.

On Thursday, the consensus was that the consultants had done a good job of sifting through many opinions to distill overarching themes of environmental protection, economic development, greater public access and more activities.

"All these guys are smart enough to see through the group interests or individual agendas," said Dan Harvey Jr., a vocal activist and regular presence at public meetings in recent months.

In fact, the biggest change for planners in the past few months hasn't been an unexpected curveball in public opinion about the waterfront, often voiced by a small core of waterfront activists.

It was the failure of Greenlight Pinellas.

In a presentation to the City Council just before the Nov. 4 election, consultants said voter approval of the transit plan was integral to moving people around the waterfront, and connecting the northern and southern portions. Greenlight's crushing defeat raises the question of where the resources will come from to move people quickly from spot to spot.

"It certainly would have helped," said Mike Brown, earlier this week. Brown is a member of a team of nearly a dozen consultants working for AECOM, a global consulting firm that will create a draft next month and report back to the City Council and the public in early 2015.

The plan is scheduled to be adopted by the city in the spring. In 2011, voters approved a city charter change that required a waterfront plan to be reviewed and updated every seven years after the City Council approves the first plan next year.

Mayor Rick Kriseman has said he doesn't expect or necessarily want specific, detailed recommendations from AECOM as much as broad-brush guidance on how best to proceed with what the mayor has called the city's gem.

Kriseman wasn't in attendance Thursday, and he hasn't been a visible presence at public events.

Meanwhile, in a separate process, design teams are dreaming up a new future for the Pier. AECOM says the waterfront plan — whatever its final form — will mesh well with whatever design is picked for the Pier.

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But for now, St. Petersburg residents passionate about its eastern boundary feel heard, an important milestone on the historically contentious waterfront, council member Karl Nurse said.

"These guys are good at this, really good at getting input and gradually moving toward consensus," Nurse said. "This democracy stuff takes a little time."