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St. Petersburg voters to decide on Vinoy ‘reimagination’

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

In addition to the mayor’s race and three contests for City Council, St. Petersburg voters will also be presented with a handful of referendums this November.

One decision voters must make is whether to approve a privately financed, one-story parking garage with eight tennis courts on top of the 7th Avenue NE side of the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel.

The historic hotel’s garage currently offers 509 parking spaces, but Vinoy general manager Barbara Readey says that’s not enough.

“On weekends, we can have a charity event for 600 people that are all drive-in locals, so we’re really flowing out into the streets already on Beach Drive and the Northeast,” Readey said. “The residents are thrilled that we’re going to offer this privately-funded, new garage.”

The expansion will create an additional 270 parking slots, and is part of a significant $50 million renovation (or ‘reimagination,’ to use the hospitality phrase) that includes a 17,000-square-foot fitness center, an 8,000-square-foot spa and a 205-seat restaurant built on the marina called Paul’s Landing.

Despite those expansions, the Vinoy is not expanding its footprint in Old Northeast. Nor is it asking for any public funds, making the referendum similar to the springtime ballot measure that asked voters to allow the Tampa Bay Rowdies to enter into a long-term lease with the city at Al Lang Stadium. That measure crushed at the polls, winning 87 percent to 13 percent.

The Vinoy is required to get public support because the property was acquired in 1984 through a swap with the city so it could finish the waterfront parks system. The 2.3-acre parcel is deed restricted, so in order to build anything on it, voter approval is a must.

A St. Pete Polls survey conducted in July showed that the measure was supported by 58 percent of the public, with 20 percent saying that they didn’t know enough about the project. Kyle Parks, a spokesman for the measure, says it’s the job of advocates of the proposal to get the word out to city residents over the course of the next six weeks.

The City Council as a whole is behind the measure, as is Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker, state Rep. Ben Diamond and Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. 

Advocates have met with about a dozen neighborhood association groups about the measure. Parks says the biggest concern for him is addressing misconceptions that some members of the public have, such as that the measure is a sort of “Trojan horse” for the Vinoy to expand beyond what’s being specified in the referendum.

“That’s why FelCor and the Vinoy were really specific in the language of the measure,” Parks said, adding that there simply is not enough land in the space where the new garage expansion will take place. “If they did, they’d have to go back to referendum again, so that narrow language has helped us address that misconception.”

(FelCor Lodging Trust was the hotel’s ownership group until it recently merged with RLJ Lodging Trust a few weeks ago.)

If approved, Vinoy officials anticipate that majority of the project will be done by December 2019. For more information, go to vinoyimprovements.com.

The other measure on the ballot will ask voters to approve giving the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission a 10-year lease for Walter Fuller Baseball Park with the option of a 10-year renewal. They’ll also weigh in on whether to approve another decade of funding for the countywide “Penny for Pinellas” tax.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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