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St. Pete won’t fall victim to Sweetbay, committed to Midtown’s momentum of growth

It is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in St. Petersburg, FL, and a crowd has gathered at the Sweetbay Supermarket in the Midtown community. Community leaders and elected officials alike spoke with passion about saving the first supermarket that has come into this community since the A&P closed 31 years ago.

RepRusonThe Midtown community is a community that may have become far too used to being slighted, overlooked and forgotten, but a renaissance has begun. Economic development is sparking, and community development is burgeoning in the form of new businesses calling Midtown home. Educational institutions are making an investment here while houses are being refurbished and new ones are being built along with dollars being allocated towards helping this community grow into everything the people of Midtown believed it could be.

One key addition to this revitalization is the Sweetbay Supermarket, located on the corner of 22nd Street and 18th Avenue South. Florida State Representative Darryl Rouson said, “This is more than just a store. We took this property from drug lords. We walked around the block and there were houses here.” Rouson explained that the community decided what it needed most. They needed a grocery store.

And so, this Sweetbay Supermarket opened in 2005 after a lengthy city-led effort in which it invested $1.35 million for the construction of Tangerine Plaza and additional funds to assemble the land for the site. Many financial partners then pitched in with dollars from banking institutions along with county, state and federal funds to make this supermarket a reality.

“This Midtown store is just a number to Sweetbay corporate, but to our community, it is so much more. The city invested blood, sweat and tears and money to bring Midtown its first grocery store. Sweetbay has been a great partner in increasing vitality throughout the 22nd Street Corridor,” said Mayor Bill Foster.

MayorFosterBut, Sweetbay corporate is not talking, said the mayor, elected officials and business partners, including Urban Development Solutions Developer Larry Newsome. The company has not communicated with the business partners who have money invested in this project, nor the elected officials who have called numerous times requesting a conversation.

“Whatever resources I can bare from the State of Florida. I’ll bring here,” said Ruson. Representative Ruson was one official who publicly stated that he does feel insulted that Sweebay has not bothered contacting the community directly over the closure. Ruson expressed that he is frustrated that he doesn’t know what, if anything, it would take to keep the supermarket here. Addressing Sweetbay directly, he said, “Talk to us at the table to see about gap money.”

Pinellas County School Board member and lifelong Midtown resident Rene Flowers said, “We are a community who will work with people, and we will hold your hand and show you the way.” Flowers expressed her frustration in Sweetbay not showing any signs of being willing to work with the community.

“We will continue to have a high quality grocery store at this site in Midtown,” said Council Chair Karl Nurse. “This is about providing quality of life, community pride and jobs. If it isn’t a Sweetbay store, we will recruit and support another grocery store for our community.”

Community activist Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter expressed the critical need for a high quality grocery store in the community. “There are people right down this street who don’t have a vehicle. Their only choice was to buy meet from one of these meat markets that don’t keep their food at the right temperature. I’ve gone in myself and told [the store owners], ‘Either you clean this damn store, or I’m calling the health department.’”

Mamma Tee explained that she has shown people how they can walk down to Sweetbay, spend some money on groceries and take a cab home with a few dollars they have left so that they can buy all they need versus just a few things at a time, which they can carry home.

Not only is this about a community’s access to nutritious food, this also is about jobs, and this is being taken very seriously. Flowers said that the Urban League has committed to make sure the Sweetbay store employees will be able to “feed their families.” Likewise, Councilmember Wengay Newton stated that Wal-Mart has committed to helping these employees with jobs if Sweetbay does indeed close the store.

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker also was present. Baker was the acting mayor when the plans for this Sweetbay were being made, and Foster was then on the City Council—Baker came to lend his support to this critical resource in the community and to support Mayor Foster’s efforts to save this store. Baker explained that this store is a large part in the vision he shares with Foster to have a seamless city. He explained that you cannot have a seamless city when people in one neighborhood have to take a bus to get to critical services such as a grocery store, a pharmacy, a post office.

For right now, elected officials, business partners and community members alike are simply asking that Sweetbay release the numbers and agree to a conversation to explore ways that this particular Sweetbay can remain open. The community is willing to do what it takes to keep this partnership going if possible.

Via Daphne Taylor Street. You can contact Daphne at daphnestreet@daphnestreet.com

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Run-down on St. Pete Pier topics–prep for tonight’s ‘input meeting’

I have rarely seen a modern issue as divisive in the City ofSt. Pete as the one that exists now regarding the St. Petersburg Pier. As a native to this town, I am torn between wanting to honor tradition and wanting a symbol for the city’s future and progress. After all, my father,Thomas H. Street, was a prolific artist—mostly a muralist—inSt. Petersburg, and one of his best-known murals rests steady on a circular wall, overhead from the first floor, depicting the many faces of the St. Petersburg Pier through its history. Apparently, its concept was a short-sighted history; it seems a panel should have been left blank, allowing room for the future. Yet, when the demolition begins, I suppose it won’t matter much.

History and sentiment aside, I also am as confused as many are about what facts are really facts. With so much contradictory information floating about, I found myself having difficulty keeping everything straight. Today, another “public input” meeting is set (Tuesday, June 12 at6 p.m.at EnochDavisCenter,1111 18th Ave. S.), and in honor of this, I wanted to put together a rundown of content on the Pier issue. Here are some highlights for review:

“The ‘Lens’ contract was approved at the St. Petersburg City Council meeting yesterday by a 7 to 1 vote, but that likely won’t be the last you hear of this. A local group has formed—you may have heard of them – voteonthepier.com. It appears that the group is well on its way to collecting the 16,000 signatures needed on their petition to meet the threshold. While that may sound intimidating, as though City Council should be shaking in their boots that the people are going to rise up in numbers and could potentially vote to undo the years of work, beginning in 1996 followed by 68 specific meetings and public hearings, that lead to where we are today, finally signing a contract for a new Pier. However, City Attorney John Wolfe said that the language used in the petition from votefothepier.org would not require the city to offer this issue up to a public vote no matter how many signatures they collect.”

“Below is my Twitter feed from yesterday’s St. Petersburg City Council meeting about the Pier issue, using “Storify.”

“Before we get to the fact-checking of Foster’s “facts”, we wanted to share some of the details we learned after filling our brains with pier task-force information, and other related data on the pier: The $50 million that has been earmarked was intended to address the Pier approach and the Pier head, but the not the Pier building itself (City Council instructed the pier task force in 2008 to consider all options, including demolishing the pier)”

“Mayor Bill Foster released some more “Pier Facts” today in his sometimes-weekly weekly forecast email, so we thought we would go through these and see if he was any more truthful on these new facts than he was on the “facts” he released last week in his shiny “facts” brochure. If you haven’t read our post from Monday, please take a few minutes to read it, there is a lot of good background information in there. “The Pier Approach… and the Pier Head were built in 1926. According to engineering assessments, these portions of the Pier are continuing to diminish in their ability to bear weight, and will have to be closed within two years.” We haven’t seen anyone anywhere debate you on this Mayor Foster, everyone agrees that the pier approach and head need to be replaced.”

“Today, the City of St. Petersburg awkwardly launched a fancy new website dedicated to the new Lens Pier design, and wouldn’t you know it, a few of Foster’s misleading “pier facts” and some new revisionist history appears(and then was deleted) on the new website too. We say “awkwardly launched” because they didn’t check to see that the new website was working before announcing it, so for the first couple of hours, people that went to the new website only saw these two words “Under Development”, and they even managed to send everyone five copies of the City’s weekly email newsletter today which also announced the website, just another PR stumble for the Mayor we guess. Also, it looks like they removed the link from the city’s website to the original pier competition page, so we’ve included that link for you here so you can go look at the critique and analysis of how their Lens Phase 1 proposal was over budget and inadequate in several ways.”

“We would like to thank the people behind voteonthepier.com for giving us (the Bill Foster Watch) the exclusive on this story. Through their research they have contacted a former reporter from the St. Petersburg Times from back in 2009. Cristina Silva coveredSt.   Petersburgpolitics for the Times back then, and when she was told about Mayor Foster’s current push to demolish the Pier and not hold a referendum, and how that conflicts with this article that she wrote during the 2009 race for Mayor, she had the following to say…”

“St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has drawn the line in the sand for voteonthepier.com supporters—a group that has collected over 14,000 petitions to have a public vote to help save the St. Petersburg Pier in its full inverted pyramid style. By June 11th, Foster says the group must submit the nearly 16,000 petitions necessary to have the vote included on the November 6th ballot. The June 11 date was determined by working backwards, said Foster. It includes the time needed for the petitions to be processed and for the City Council to consider an ordinance to put the measure on this November’s ballot.”

“For the Mayor to arbitrarily come up with this deadline is ridiculous,” Lambdon said in an interview with Patch. “It’s clear why he wants to do it. To try and promote an ill-conceived and unsupported “Lens” pier.”

“Public input on the fate of the St. Pete Pier seems less likely now that organizers of a petition drive failed to deliver the 16,000 signatures required to have the issue possibly put on November’s ballot. In a letter dated May 24, Mayor Bill Foster set June 11 as the deadline for votethepier.com founder Thomas Lambdon to turn in the petitions to the city clerk. “I am trying to give them the best possible chance of getting this in front of council members and on the ballot,” said Foster.”

“According to Mayor Bill Foster’s calculations, Monday was the beginning of the end for the group trying to force a vote on the Pier, which is set to be replaced. Foster had given voteonthepier.com a June 11 deadline to submit the almost 16,000 petitions needed to get on the Nov. 6 ballot. But Monday came and went without a single petition delivered to City Hall. Wengay Newton, who is the sole council member against the new $50 million Pier and who signed the first petition in 2010, called Foster’s deadline arbitrary.”

Credit for the format of this piece goes to Peter Schorsch of Saint PetersBlog–I borrowed liberally from his style. Full disclosure: I am a freelance writer often published through Saint PetersBlog–some of my articles are included in the listing above.

First Pier public input meeting to be held this evening at the Coliseum 7:00 p.m.

The Lens, pier design

The City of St. Petersburg is moving forward with the Lens design for the new St. Petersburg Pier, although Mayor Foster has set a deadline for organizers of voteonthepier.com. They must collect nearly 16,000 petitions by June 11th for the issue to go on the November ballot for a public vote. Recently the group reported that they had upwards of 14,000 petitions and climbing. 

Meanwhile, city officials are forging ahead with their plans for a new Pier. This includes hosting four meetings in June to gather input to refine the Lens concept. The first meeting will be held Thursday, June 7 at 6 p.m. at The Coliseum, 535 Fourth Ave. N.

City Council voted on May 17 to enter into an agreement with Michael Maltzan Architecture, Inc. for design and construction of the new St. Petersburg Pier. Other meeting dates/locations include June 12 at Enoch Davis Center, June 14 at J.W. Cate Recreation Center, and June 19 at Lake Vista Recreation Center. All meetings begin at 6 p.m.

St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster provides Access, but transparency is still under development

Link to full article here: http://saintpetersblog.com/2012/01/bill-fosters-mayors-night-out-offer-access-but-not-much-transparency/

The most recent Mayor’s Night Out, hosted January 12, 2012 at the J.W. Cate Center provided unparalleled access to many departments represented by City Hall. Mayor Bill Fosterpromotes these events as an effort to improve access and transparency regarding city government. Indeed, bringing leadership representing many city departments out to the community provides extraordinary access, but I’m not so sure transparency is increased much. Not yet.

There are certain political buzz words that provide a sense of comfort among citizens. One of these is “transparency.” It’s a great word. It gives a sense of accountability—of a government laying all of its cards on the table for all to see everything exactly as they are. There would be no airbrushing and nothing hidden in a corner. Everything would be wide open for all to see. And with the Mayor’s Night Out events, that isn’t something I experienced there.

What these events do provide is fabulous access to Mayor Foster, to City Council, and many city departments were represented including Billing and Collections; Engineering, Water Resources and Capital Improvements; Housing and Community Development; School Programs; Police; Fire Rescue; Sanitation, Storm Water, Pavement and Traffic Operations; Zoning and Permitting; Transportation and Parking; Codes Compliance; Neighborhood Partnership, Libraries, Parks and Recreation; and Codes Compliance.

My View: If the citizens of St. Petersburg truly want transparency, they must participate in it. The access is most certainly there in a fashion that cannot be criticized. What is needed for true transparency to be realized is for citizens to go to these events and demand answers to tough questions. Require follow-up and reporting on issues that are of the greatest concern to citizens from the city. The citizens of St. Petersburg must take an active leadership role as both a partner and critic of their local government for transparency to be a reality. Mayor Foster, the City Council and city departments have certainly put themselves out there—It’s up to us to make transparency happen.

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