Advertisement
  1. News

St. Petersburg council members want to clean up Williams Park

Published Feb. 19, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG — Efforts to transform Williams Park from a homeless drug den to a flourishing playground for families and downtown workers have floundered for years.

Now, four St. Petersburg City Council members say the city must immediately reclaim the 4.3 acres in the heart of downtown from drug dealers, addicts and drunks.

The council members reacted Monday to a story published Sunday in the Tampa Bay Times about how the park has become an oasis of illegal activity from sunrise to sundown.

"I think it's a shame," said council member Leslie Curran. "We need to get a handle on this."

Suggestions include building a wrought iron fence around the park to limit entrance points, stationing more police officers at the park, increasing the staff of homeless outreach workers at City Hall and adding concession stands to attract students from St. Petersburg College.

Curran, Karl Nurse, Jeff Danner and Jim Kennedy all agree on one thing: Before any cleanup can start, the buses must go.

The park is a transit hub for 16 bus routes. Hundreds of people get off one bus to catch another at the park every day. Of those routes, 14 could be moved to another location once land is found, said Danner, who also chairs the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

"It has to go," Danner said. "This all ties in with our intermodal station. Money is available."

Plans for a new transit hub have been in the works since at least 2010. If that move occurs, diesel-chugging buses would no longer block the view of the park from the streets, opening up green space.

The PSTA, Danner said, also is examining problems with the bus shelters.

Transit authorities will meet next week with city and police officials to explore ways to open the bus shelters so people can't hide from passing police officers, Danner said. The meeting was planned earlier this month.

Officials have tried and failed to revitalize Williams Park for decades. Now in its 125th year, the park once hosted Presidents Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. It now hosts the homeless.

To neighboring businesses and residents, the park plagues some of the priciest real estate in the city. Parents no longer push strollers on its sidewalks. Downtown workers don't want to eat lunch on its benches.

As the economy rebounds, seven new projects are slated to add more than 1,000 new apartments and condo units — and presumably thousands of residents — within blocks of the park.

Two years ago, Kennedy said he tried to add playground equipment at the park, but his plan didn't gain traction.

Something must be done to change the reputation, he said, adding: "It's just a tough act."

Nurse wants to put a wrought iron fence around the park.

He plans to pitch the idea to Mayor Bill Foster and city administrators. Limiting entrance and exit points could help police control illegal activity and allow the park to be locked at night, he said.

"One of the most beautiful parks I have ever seen in Paris had a fence around it," he said. "It would provide people with a sense of safety.

Also, the city needs more police officers at the park to keep troublemakers away, Nurse said.

He lauded Curran's efforts a few years ago to launch an ongoing Saturday arts exhibit and other events at the park. Both eventually failed.

One of Curran's biggest issues involves people who aren't homeless but linger at the park all day to drink, smoke and sell synthetic marijuana joints, commonly referred to as spice.

She wants to ban stores from selling the product.

"It's going to take an enormous commitment from the city," she said.

Danner believes he has a low-cost solution.

Building concession stands with Wi-Fi hot spots could lure students from St. Petersburg College.

"Kids could take over the park," he said. "They don't come across the street."

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. James Rybicki, 63, faces charges of lewd and lascivious molestation and possession of child pornography. But he could go free after a judge found that Pinellas sheriff’s detectives and Pinellas-Pasco prosecutors lied to obtain a search warrant in his case. Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
    A Pinellas sheriff’s detective and Pinellas-Pasco prosecutors “made false statements” to obtain a search warrant, a judge has ruled. The evidence was thrown out.
  2. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., left, with Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif, the ranking member, concludes a day of testimony by key witnesses as it probes President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP
    The United States ambassador to the European Union told the impeachment inquiry his efforts to press Ukraine to announce investigations were ordered by President Trump, and top officials knew.
  3. The woman was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a motor vehicle and culpable negligence.
  4. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Pamela Campbell during a hearing to review the guardianship cases once overseen by Traci Hudson, who faces criminal charges in one of those cases. Hudson was not present during Wednesday's hearing in a St. Petersburg courtroom. Pinellas sheriff's detectives say she stole more than $500,000 from an elderly man for whom she held power of attorney. Court records show she was appointed as a guardian in about two dozen cases. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Traci Hudson had served as guardian overseeing the affairs of 26 people until her arrest on a charge of exploitation of the elderly. Her handling of those cases will be reviewed.
  5. Robert "Bobby" Mavis, 40, top left, is shown in this family photo with his wife Elizabeth and their children, from left, Evan, Kendall and Kyle. The father of three died in the Nov. 13 chain-reaction crash on northbound Interstate 75 in Hillsborough County. Courtesy Elizabeth Mavis
    Robert “Bobby” Mavis, 40, was on his way home from work last week when a semi-trailer truck crashed into his Mercedes.
  6. Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority bus driver Rekira Owens is seen at the wheel behind a newly installed shield as they board the bus on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Tampa.  The clear divider is meant to protect drivers from physical assaults after a driver was killed earlier this year. A bus driver on Tuesday was operating a vehicle without a shield when he was attacked by a rider. CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times
    About 75 buses still need the clear, plastic doors. The transit authority plans to install eight a day.
  7. Bins filled with products move on conveyor belts at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Ruskin. Amazon just announced it will open a similar center in Auburndale, Fla. (Times | 2018) Tampa Bay Times
    The new center will span more than 1 million square feet and be No. 11 in the state.
  8. Vacant land along Manhattan Avenue at the north end of MacDill Air Force base may the site of the forgotten Port Tampa Cemetery. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The property was a burial ground for people who lived in the old city of Port Tampa.
  9. An overlay map showing where Ridgewood Cemetery is located on the King High School campus. The red outline indicates the boundary of the cemetery and the pink boxes the graves. GeoView
    Ridgewood Cemetery, a pauper’s burial ground from the mid-20th century, was sold to the school district as part of the property where King was later built.
  10. Ashley Laquita Moore, 34, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and culpable negligence after intentionally running into a bus. Hillsborough County Sherriff's Office
    Ashley Laquita Moore faces charges of aggravated assault with a motor vehicle and culpable negligence.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement