Press the play triangle above to watch the full interview.
St. Petersburg’s postcard-perfect waterfront parks and greenspace weren’t always as magnificent as they are today, according to Waterfront Parks Foundation President Phil Graham.
“In the ‘80s, [the parks] were quite extraordinary,” he said in an interview in the Catalyst studio. “There were flowers everywhere. That all declined through the years but that’s back with the help of our donors.”
Graham is a fourth-generation St. Petersburger and recalls playing in city parks every day after school. “That was my playground,” he said.
But during the recession that began in 2008, park maintenance funds were depleted, causing Graham’s beloved spaces to look “pretty shabby, but through no fault of the city — they just didn’t have the funds.”
The decline prompted Graham and a few other concerned residents to form the Waterfront Parks Foundation in 2012. “At that time, there was a lot of pressure [to develop the parks],” he said. Doing so would have greatly “degraded the greenspace and parkland.”
Today, Graham and his foundation are involved in negotiations over the future of Demens Landing, one of the city’s most popular waterfront parks. Safe Harbor Development, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based company, has proposed to redevelop the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina, which borders Demens Landing. SHD’s original plan called for a reduction in greenspace to allow for up to 400 parking spaces at the site, a vast increase over the 280 that already exist.
Graham spoke out last week when he and the foundation felt that their position on the marina proposal had been misrepresented by the Catalyst and Mayor Rick Kriseman. WPF, he clarified, has not approved the marina plan. In fact, it takes no position on most of the elements of SHD’s proposal, instead focusing on just the portion that pertains to Demens Landing parkland and green space.
“Our focus is and has always been to deal with the parkland portion of [Safe Harbor Development’s] plan,” Graham told the Catalyst. “The parkland portion really is Demens Landing. In the initial plan that they presented to the city, there was a swath of parkland that was relocated. It was dug into on the north side and parking was put there, and they moved some greenspace over to the marina side. This was really quite unacceptable to the Waterfront Parks Foundation and should be to the rest of the city.
“So we spoke up, and after that we were in correspondence and dialogue with Safe Harbor and the city. We had several meetings and went through several iterations of plans to mitigate the negative impact on Demens Landing. We got up to Concept D, the latest iteration, which satisfied most of our concerns. We never dealt with the marina at all. It was not part of our scope, not part of our interest. We did not opine on the marina itself. Our focus really is the parkland.”
Graham said that SHD and the city must meet multiple conditions, such as removing the parking circle at the eastern end of Demens Landing and filling that area with greenspace, before it will be OK with the redevelopment. The group is also asking for a new survey — the one used by SHD, Graham said, was done in 1977 — and a color-coded parking plan that details exactly which spaces will be open to the public and which will be reserved for marina users.
However, he said, “there is no approval by us until those conditions are met, and that’s going to be probably months from now, because there’s a lot of work to be done.”