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City Council doesn’t seem bothered by downtown waterfront master plan delay

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete City Council voted to postpone its decision on what up until recently had been a fairly straightforward and widely supported long-range plan for the downtown waterfront.

After hours of debate the board decided to move its vote to the June 4 meeting.

The downtown waterfront master plan is a comprehensive guide to connecting about five miles of downtown waterfront from Coffee Pot Bayou south to Lassing Park. The plan would connect waterfront parks with various walking and bike connections, lay ground work for more effectively using paved space and even guide activities along Vinoy Park and the Pier uplands.

It would also go hand-in-hand with the city’s plan to replace the iconic inverted pyramid with the controversial Pier Park.

But unlike the Pier, the waterfront plans planned over a year in conjuction with a $500,000 AECOM study skated by with relatively little controversy. That is, until city staff decided to add in plans for a hotel and convention center near Mahaffey Theater and the Dali Museum in the ninth hour.

The public protested. The Tampa Bay Times called for it to be removed from the plan. And one by one City Council members including Wengay Newton, Karl Nurse, Steve Kornell and Darden Rice all echoed that sentiment with their own calls to take it out.

But after more than 12 hours of meeting and the hour approaching the past-my-bedtime point for many council members, the can got kicked down the road.

“Council meetings started at 8 am. By 10:30 pm, I think it was prudent to come back to the discussion with fresh energy and sharp focus,” council member Darden Rice wrote in an email. “Months of work went into the draft plan process.  No one wanted to slice and dice a plan on the dais.”

She said rushing a vote would have risked “reckless decisions.”

The city seemed resolved to lose its battle to include a convention center and hotel in the plan. With four council members publicly dissenting, they were left with little choice.

Instead the board got hung up on some details in the south basin map.

“I think we’ll tackle that with a better purpose with a fresh start at our next meeting and not get stuck on semantics,” Rice said.

Most of the controversy has been settled.

“The Council overwhelmingly voted to remove the hotel and conference center from the south basin area near Mahaffey Theater,” said council member Karl Nurse.

He didn’t mind delaying a vote either.

“We will get finished [on June 4,]” he said. “It is too important to allow exhaustion to cloud our effort to finish.”

Even Council member Steve Kornell, who took to Facebook publicly criticizing city staff for forcing the hotel and conference center into the plan, agreed that postponing a vote wasn’t a bad thing.

“I don’t know if I’m for it or against it,” Kornell said. “I just want it brought forward in a way that is thoughtful to the public.”

He said if there is to be a hotel or convention center, that needs to be a separate conversation; a thoughtful conversation. Overall, though, Kornell said he thinks the plan is good.

“It’s a way forward for our community.”

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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