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Lisa Wheeler-Brown says Trop site is prime development for ‘booming’ St. Pete

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Leading the pack of five City Council candidates in District 7, Lisa Wheeler-Brown has already nabbed endorsements from two City Council members, including Karl Nurse and Darden Rice.

It may be little coincidence that both of those council members are two of the four currently supporting Mayor Rick Kriseman’s deal brokered with the Tampa Bay Rays to allow the team’s management to begin looking for stadium space outside the city.

Wheeler-Brown has long said she supports that Memorandum of Understanding.

“It is a priority,” she said during a meeting with SaintPetersblog Monday. “That’s 88 acres we could develop on.

And that, Wheeler-Brown said, can translate to jobs. She admitted the Rays are an important part of the city and provide a huge set of jobs on their own, but a deal with the team to let them look in other parts of the county and in Hillsborough doesn’t necessarily mean St. Pete loses those jobs.

Should the city find itself in a situation where development of the site is imminent, Wheeler-Brown said she envisions opportunities for mixed-use, including affordable housing and potential retail space. She also said the land could be used for youth programs.

“St. Pete is booming right now,” Wheeler-Brown said. “It can help St. Pete. That’s what I’m looking for – growth.”

The current City Council is deadlocked 4-4 on the Mayor’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Rays. If elected, Wheeler-Brown would replace term-limited City Council member Wengay Newton. Newton has been a staunch no vote on the Rays deal. If she were elected, Wheeler-Brown would be the fifth vote needed to move the MOU forward.

While the Rays deal seems to be stalled until a new City Council member is elected to District 7, the controversy surrounding the St. Pete Pier is moving forward full steam ahead with candidates only able to watch from the sidelines as they wait to learn whether they’ll jump into the debate from the dais.

Wheeler-Brown said she hopes the process will continue to move forward as her campaign progresses. City Council has approved a design, authorized contracts to build Pier Park and even authorized demolition. But the wrecking ball was put on hold for the inverted pyramid amid questions surrounding permitting.

The delay gives naysayers the opportunity to push forward with a petition drive that would ask voters whether they should have a say at the ballot box on any construction or demolition on downtown waterfront.

“It’s time,” Wheeler-Brown said. “We’re going to go ahead and build a pier and that’s Pier Park.”

The chosen design wasn’t her top pick, but she’s poised to see the process continue unfettered.

The petition effort has sat in the wings of the Pier debate largely unheard of, but organizers promise they have not gone away. Their efforts could continue even if the inverted pyramid is demolished; however at that point, the petition effort would do little to save the existing Pier.

Current City councilmembers are also currently plagued by a rocky rollout of curbside recycling. Many residents in the 40 percent of homes in traditional neighborhoods are pleading with city officials to be more flexible with the program.

The current recycling program requires the 95-gallon blue bins to be collected curbside even in those homes where trash is picked up in alleyways. Wheeler-Brown hopes the city can work with residents to find a solution. She said that can be accomplished by continuing to have conversations with residents about what they need and searching for solutions that could allow alley recycling pickup.

Wheeler-Brown is a prominent community activist. Her life was changed in 2008 when her 21-year-old son Cabretti Wheeler was murdered. Instead of crawling into a hole and letting her grief control her, Wheeler-Brown took an active role in working with law enforcement to bring her son’s killer to justice. During that process she helped to break down the community’s “no-snitch” code of silence and, ultimately, the killer was charged.

Wheeler-Brown was the city’s first African-American president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations and has remained active in her community through strengthening relationships with law enforcement.

Her continued efforts go hand in hand with one of her top priorities – safer neighborhoods.

“No child should have to go to bed hearing gun shots,” Wheeler-Brown said.

Her plans to provide safer neighborhoods include a combination of improving education programs both during and after school. She wants to see city mentor programs and an emphasis on job creation for residents in District 7.

Wheeler-Brown will square off against four other candidates in the August 25 primary election. Her challengers are fire fighter union leader Will Newton, Pasadena Bear Creek Neighborhood Association President Aaron Sharpe, former attorney Sheila Scott-Griffin and public schools employee Elvert Lewis Stephens.

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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