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New group aims to restore Williams Park to its historic vibrance

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Buses in Williams Park are gone.

Sunday was the first day buses stopped at a variety of places in downtown St. Pete instead of all picking up and dropping off passengers at Williams Park.

With the old bus shelters no longer surrounding the park, forming a barrier, St. Pete officials hope the park can finally be a gathering ground for families and festivities that so many other downtown parks are.

A brand new group called the Williams Park Partnership is doing its part to make sure that’s  what happens. On Saturday nearly 50 volunteers including those from the St. Pete Young Professionals, the St. Pete Downtown Neighborhood Associations, students from St. Petersburg College, veterans and First United Methodist Church showed up to clean up the park.

The group picked up trash and planted fresh flowers.

“The park is a diverse place. There is a lot to learn from the small businesses, nonprofits, schools and faith communities that occupy the real estate surrounding Williams Park,” said Justin Bean, head of the Williams Park Partnership. “There’s a long way to go towards enhancing this green space we all share, but we were extremely encouraged to see so many different groups participating in today’s clean up.”

The clean-up also served as a meeting. The group talked about ways to further improve the park and attract visitors including by enhancing the veteran’s monuments in the park.

For decades Williams Park has been a gathering ground for the city’s homeless population. The bus shelters served as a place of respite for people with no other place to get out of the rain or wind.

Leading up to plans to remove the shelters and divert the buses, some homeless advocacy groups worried the change may displace those individuals. However, city and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority officials claimed the move had nothing to do with the homeless and, as a public park, those people still had every right to be in the park as long as they obeyed the law.

The homeless outreach division of the St. Petersburg Police Department assured SaintPetersblog they anticipated the bus changes would have little affect on homeless individuals in the area.

The daytime image of Williams Park has always been that of dozens of transient people lounging on the lawn.

It’s unclear whether efforts to clean up the park will divert those people to other places. Nearby Mirror Lake is another gathering ground for the city’s homeless. So to is St. Vincent DePaul on Fifth Avenue North.

The cleanup event was just the first in a series of events aimed at “returning Williams Park to its historic place as a vibrant, safe and attractive public green space in the heart of St. Petersburg.”

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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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