Before the League of Women Voters’s mayoral debate at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront ended in chaos Monday night, the eight candidates running for the District 6 City Council seat engaged in an hour-long, policy-driven forum.
Among the questions posed to the candidates included what should happen to the site of Tropicana Field at 16th Street South – 85 acres of prime time real estate – if (and when?) the Tampa Bay Rays leave the site for another stadium.
Mayor Rick Kriseman’s hope is that the Rays don’t leave, but ultimately opt to remain at the current site. He’s embraced a conceptual master plan that would haver the city partner with the club to redevelop the current site to include shopping, office buildings, a hotel and conference center and places to live.
The construction of Tropicana Field (then called the Florida Suncoast Dome) in the mid 1980’s ripped the African-American Gas Plant community in half. Moderator Pat Wood asked if part of the candidates’ plans include returning the area directly to the black community?
Erica “Akile” Cainion said the area absolutely should go back to the black community.
“That land was built in the Gas Plant district which destroyed 800 homes, displaced black families and destroyed 100 businesses existed during the history of St. Pete,” she said.
James Scott said the area should be shared “with the entire community,” but said the city should acknowledge the “historic injustice” of what happened with the community in the development of that property.
Gina Driscoll said she was very excited with the master plan. “This is going to be an opportunity to truly bring the neighborhoods together.”
Jim Jackson said he’d love for the Rays to stick around in St. Pete, but not with any city tax dollars for a new stadium. “A lot of that should go back and point towards Midtown,” he said, calling for inclusionary zoning where every developer working in the area would be mandated to include at least one housing unit for set aside for people making between $30,000-$50,000 a year.
Maria Scruggs said the first step should be for to determine how Tropicana Field can legally be drawn back into the Southside CRA (community redevelopment agency). “There is absolutely no reason why the largest potential tax base was drawn into the downtown district, when it was the African-American community that was impacted by the dismantling of homes and businesses,” she said
Robert Blackmon wants the Rays to remain in St. Petersburg, but says a new ballpark should eliminate surface parking in lieu of parking garages. He said there should be opportunities for jobs and space for the black community to open businesses on the spot.
Justin Bean said the roads near the area need to be reintegrated. He called for creating a special district in the area and look at recruiting businesses and offices to locate in the area.
More than a year ago, the St. Pete City Council updated the city’s noise ordinance, but a study conducted earlier this year indicated that some businesses aren’t following it, so the city conducted more hearings about it earlier this year. What to do about it, the candidates were asked (in 30 seconds or less).
“Some people’s noise is a good time,” said Jackson. “We welcome millennials, and you want to turn them away?”
Driscoll, Bean and Scruggs agreed that the problem wasn’t with the ordinance, but it’s enforcement (or lack there of). Scruggs argued that there needs to be a “varying degree” of what is considerable acceptable in terms of noise in a resident community vs areas considered commercial.
After outbursts by supporters of Cainion prompted warnings by the moderator, Bean segued from what’s happening in downtown when it comes to noise to what was happening inside the Hilton hotel.
“We’re not actually enforcing the law that’s in place,” he said. “Just like we’re not enforcing the law to keep the noise level down in the room.”
Corey Givens, Jr., said the issue showed how important it is to have dialogue with everyone. He said it was important to work with business owners so “we don’t take food and bread off of their tables and pockets.”
Blackmon warned residents to be “careful for what you wish for.”
“Bars downtown are what’s allowing your property values to go up,” said the candidate who works in real estate.”When bars close down, you may see a drop in property values.”
Cainion couldn’t believe that with so many other searing issues plaguing the city, people were that concerned about noise. “If the city government stopped spending so much money into downtown and building bars we wouldn’t have a noise issue,” she retorted. “How is that even a question when we’re talking about the lives of people in this city? This is a war and we’re talking about the noise level?”
“I don’ think St. Pete is in a war,” Scott countered, adding that when lived in Daytona Beach for “Bike Week,” officers simply pulled out a noise dosimeter to measure if a business was violating the decibel level. “If a person is above that limit, they get a ticket.”
The current City Council (as the Committee as a Whole) gave preliminary support for an ordinance last month that would limit individual campaign contributions to $5,000 from political action committees, and prohibit spending by foreign-influenced corporations. They did so even after city legal staff said there is a serious question about its constitutionality and suggested they could likely go to court to defend it.
Most of the candidates acknowledged the legal peril, but said the city should still go for it.
“I realize it’s an issue that should be addressed on the national and state levels, ” he said. “However, when you look at our president, our Congress, our Supreme Court, our Florida Legislature, our Florida government, there is not going to be progress made on that. I refuse to believe that we can just stand by and do nothing.”
Cainion said she is opposed to big money in politics, but said that Kriseman and Rick Baker failed to get the memo, as their combined spending already is north of a million dollars.
Jackson said he was proud that “our little town” that could become the first in the nation to start the legal process to limit and eventually overturn the controversial 2010 Citizens United case that allowed for the explosion of Super PACS on the political scene.
Givens and Blackmon said they supported the ordinance, but Blackmon said he feared the costs of a lawsuit that “we may not able to win.”
Bean, the only registered Republican in the race, said he disagreed with the city’s efforts on campaign finance, saying the city should be more concerned about sewage, the Pier and affordable housing.
But Scruggs disagreed, saying that the council can focus on more than one issue at a time.
District 6 covers much of Midtown, downtown and parts of Old Northeast. The primary election will take place on August 29.