ST. PETERSBURG — World and national tragedies are changing the city's approach to security for special events at North Straub Park.
With the approach of the holidays, concrete barricades have been erected at a section of the park's perimeter, where Fourth Avenue NE meets Beach Drive. The intersection offers a perfect view of the North Straub Park Christmas tree, which Mayor Rick Kriseman will light tonight. The waterfront park also will be a gathering spot for other holiday events, including Snowfest, visits with Santa and ice skating.
This is the first year the barricades have gone up at this intersection, said Yolanda Fernandez, public information officer for the St. Petersburg Police Department. The barriers were first erected in June for the Pride Parade, she said. Since then, they have continued to go up whenever large crowds are expected in the park, as in coming weeks, Fernandez said.
"Things are happening around the world. It's just another effort to make the park more secure for all the different events coming up," she said.
The concrete blocks border a portion of bustling Beach Drive, popular with residents and tourists for its restaurants and other attractions.
"Of course it is safety first," said Steve Westphal, owner of Parkshore Grill, 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House and the Annex at 400 Beach.
"But as an entry to our beautiful downtown, long-term, I would hope we find a more visually appealing solution."
Chuck and Kathy Prather own the Birchwood, a boutique hotel at 340 Beach Drive NE, also known for its Canopy Rooftop Lounge and Birch & Vine restaurant.
Chuck Prather doesn't think the barriers will have a negative effect on Beach Drive businesses.
Instead, "People might feel slightly safer in the world we live in now," he said.
"I'm proud that our city was proactive in seeing the current world politics. Great idea. Forward thinking," he added. "But it is a highly visible commercial corridor. I wish they would just paint them neutral."
The barricades will remain throughout the holidays.
"It's just that we have so many events through the end of the year. It would be easier to leave them there for the season," Fernandez said.
She declined to talk about additional precautions.
"We always have a plan. It's constantly adapting and changing when we learn about threats or crises or incidents around the country," she said.
The public can also help to keep things safe, Fernandez said, adding that "if they see something, to say something."
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.