The St. Petersburg City Council is poised to vote for a final time this week on approving another $14 million for the city’s plan for a new Pier. If approved, the Council will then approach Pinellas County about re-allocating $14 million in tax increment financing, or TIF funds, to the $66 million Pier project, boosting the price tag overall to $80 million.
Commission Chair Janet Long says she’s not likely to support the request.
“The City Council themselves are not united, number one,” she said on WMNF’s MidPoint program Tuesday, referring to the different ideas that Councilmembers made earlier this month when initially approving the request from Mayor Rick Kriseman.
Long also expressed dismay about the price tag of the new Pier continuing to escalate, as well as the fact that the money comes from the city’s Downtown CRA (community redevelopment agency).
“CRA’s, from my understanding, are put in place to try to help take care of blight in a community,” Long said. “Frankly, I don’t see anywhere I go in downtown right now that could be considered blight. Downtown St. Pete is humming. It’s going to be humming whether there’s a new Pier or not.”
Shortly after Long’s comments, Brandon state Senator Tom Lee struck out in a Florida Senate committee attempting to make the same point, arguing for legislation that he said would cure a problem with CRA’s that were originally created to address blight in a community but have transmogrified into what he called occasionally pet projects for CRA board members, or in some cases, “slush funds” for said legislators.
“To me, it’s gorgeous the way it is,” Long said about the St. Petersburg waterfront, sans an operating Pier.
“I’m going to have to hear a lot more solid reasons why we have to allocate another $14 million that has been heretofore designated for a transit hub, and since there are so many transportation issues we have, just getting people from point A to point Z downtown is often difficult, so I’d let to see some deeper discussion about what that money can be used for, and maybe that CRA for that matter needs to go ‘bye-bye,’ and we take our thoughts and put it on the Tropicana Field area, or what’s going on the south side of St. Pete. Those two places seem to continue to get the short shrift.”
Long says she has previously made her feelings known to Mayor Kriseman. It’s uncertain where the rest of the County Commission heads are on approving the $14 million.
Long also weighed in on the legislative vehicle proposed by Jack Latvala and strongly endorsed by the Tampa Bay Partnership that would revamp TBARTA, making it smaller and redirecting its focus. Supporters of the legislation took a blow this week when the bill was seriously amended by Tampa Bay area Lee and Jeff Brandes, requiring that any desire for light rail would have to be approved by lawmakers in Tallahassee.
The bill also calls for a majority vote by the MPOs of each county impacted by any proposed rail projects before the authority can pursue any real related contract. It would also require the authority to conduct a feasibility from an independent third party before pursuing any rail-related project.
“At this point in the session, for it to blowup the way that it did, is a bit small minded in my opinion,” Long said, criticizing state lawmakers for not focusing on the future.
Long is supportive of local Metropolitan Planning Organziations merging, an idea that the Obama federal government encouraged. Beth Alden, the head of the Metropolitan MPO, told SPB earlier this year that she didn’t understand the community’s urgency on the matter, a notion that Long is baffled by.
“Are you kidding me? What is the sense of urgency?” said a flabbergasted Long. “Have you ever tried to leave Tampa International and drive across the Howard Frankland and go to Clearwater Beach?” she asks. “I mean it’s a transportation gridlock. “
“Beth is a planner, while I understand in the great big visionary world you want to have those areas in an MPO,” she continued. “If you talk about Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco that’s where the density is. It’s not in Herando, or Sarasota, or Manatee counties.”