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Chair Montanari and Council Members:
The comments below are offered regarding your expected action on a lease agreement with Safe Harbor Development (SHD) for the renovation and management of city marina facilities in downtown’s Central and South Yacht Basins and within Demens Landing Park. Preserve the ‘Burg (PTB) views the downtown waterfront and Demens Landing Park as significant historic resources with their connection to the city’s historic waterfront park movement as well as to the South Mole’s identity as a reminder and lesson of the history of St. Petersburg having been a segregated community. Preserve the ‘Burg’s primary concerns include:
- Approving a short-term lease of waterfront/park property without referendum approval although a long-term lease is being sought, particularly as a lease could be voted upon either in the August city-wide primary election or in the November election;
- Expanding rather than reducing parking on the waterfront;
- Failing to include as part of the project recognition of the significance of the South Mole to the city’s past as the site of the African-American swimming beach within a segregated downtown;
- Keeping St. Petersburg special with appropriate design/styling for marina facilities, limits on activities for marina users within park property and assuring slip availability for smaller boat owners.
It appears administration intends to seek your approval of a short-term (five years or less) lease agreement with SHD without referendum approval although there is the clear expectation that a long-term lease is needed (and will be sought). In fact, the draft short-term lease will include a substantial penalty provision if a subsequent agreement is not reached for a long-term lease. PTB suggests there should be little doubt, in this particular case, that the initial lease agreement without referendum approval is contrary to the intent if not the letter of the City Charter’s waterfront and parks referendum provision.
Preserve the ‘Burg suggests there is no need to debate the proper application of the city charter waterfront referendum requirement to the proposed marina lease nor to invite a potential legal challenge for proceeding into the proposed lease absent first holding a referendum. This coming August (as well as November) there will be municipal elections that could offer a timely opportunity for the community to approve or disapprove of the SHD lease. Why not allow a vote at one of these elections?
Allowing a vote would assure a sensible application of the Charter referendum requirement, provide an opportunity to design plans for parking at Demens Landing Park consistent with the goals set forth in the Waterfront Master Plan to reduce waterfront parking, and allow plans to include recognition of the historic importance of the South Mole to St. Petersburg’s African American community (another goal recognized in the Master Plan at p. 73). Finally, a lease agreement including the above is likely to be met favorably by St. Petersburg voters, just as happened for the lease agreement in 2018 for the Harborage Marina and in 2017 for the Vinoy Hotel.
Preliminary marina improvement plans depict a significant increase in parking within Demens Landing Park and a concurrent reduction in green space within the park (detailed within letter of Waterfront Parks Foundation to Mayor & Council dated 1/27/21). Over the decades, increases in parking along the city’s waterfront have occurred too many times. PTB has long expressed a desire to minimize and reduce such parking and was pleased by the multiple references to doing so within the Waterfront Master Plan (see Waterfront Master Plan at p. 25-27, 33). While we understand that marina occupants/users would like more on-site parking, we believe there are many options to allow for accessible and temporary drop-off parking options for marina users while siting the more extended parking needs off-site. Thus, not only does PTB question the policy and need to allow SHD to increase parking within Demens Landing Park but PTB also questions the consistency of doing so with the goals of the Waterfront Master Plan.
PTB hopes the city will view the major park/marina renovations as an opportunity to recognize the historic significance of the South Mole. Furthermore, to the extent that Federal permitting will be involved with the marina improvements, such recognition could be of assistance in meeting section 106 Federal permitting review requirements. Preserve the ‘Burg would be happy to further discuss with staff the opportunities these marina/park improvements present for educating the public about the South Mole history.
We thank you for the consideration of our comments and suggestions. PTB’s goal is to encourage your actions to follow the intent of the city charter to protect the waterfront and to carefully consider our Waterfront Master Plan goals. The waterfront plays a significant role in making St. Petersburg special and care needs to be taken to ensure that it will continue to do so for the diverse make-up of our community.
Peter Belmont is president of Preserve the ‘Burg.