To revitalize Williams Park, erect a wrought-iron fence

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While the businesses, bars and restaurants of Beach Drive and Central Avenue flourish, economic downturn – Williams Park, one of the green spaces connecting the most important axis of downtown Saint Petersburg, continues its downward slide.

Bus depot, open-air drug market and magnet for the homeless and vagrant, Williams Park should be the shimmering town center of the city.  Instead, it is one of the most glaring examples of where local government has failed.  Only two blocks from City Hall, Williams Park is, by any standard, dirty, unsafe, unwelcoming.  Simply put, it is a disgrace.

The Tampa Bay Times‘ John Woodrow Cox writes in today’s newspaper about his recent visits to William Park. It’s enough to make any proud resident of the ‘burg fold up and cry. 

“Now, in its 125th year, the park is home to a new community: drug dealers and drug addicts, hell-raisers and drunks, hustlers and philosophers,” Cox writes. “The economy here runs on bus passes, cheap beer and thousands of hand-rolled synthetic-marijuana joints. It has become an inhospitable island, surrounded by fast-moving concrete rivers and, on three sides, a wall of 9-foot-tall buses. … To those nearby, the park is a cancer that has long diseased what could be a prime city block. St. Petersburg leaders are searching for solutions: more regular markets and luncheons, fewer transit stops, redesigned sitting walls.”

In a perfect world, guests staying at the Vinoy or any of the bed-and-breakfast inns in the Old Northeast should be able to walk to and from the north end of Beach Drive to the west end of downtown Central Avenue, traversing Williams Park for their journey.  The reality is residents and tourists alike are told to avoid Williams Park – and not just after dark.

While there was a concerted effort to revitalize Williams Park only a couple of years ago, that effort seems to have been abandoned.  Part of the reason the Friends of Williams Park abandoned thier effort was that any progress made in the park could not be sustained. 

That’s why, if Williams Park is to be saved from the drug dealers and the vagrants, it is time for a radical, but simple solution. 

Erect a damn fence!

To better protect Williams Park from criminal elements, which are holding the park hostage, erect a wrought-iron fence (which would be opened at dusk and closed at midnight) along the perimeter.  The criminals and drug dealers would surely not be keen on plying their craft in an enclosed space, where the police could better corral them.  The homeless and vagrants would have to find somewhere else to sleep at night.

Erecting a wrought-iron fence was one of the steps the City of New York took to spruce up its-now-famous Bryant Park, which is now one of the crown jewels of NYC’s park system.

Imagine the day when Williams Park is one of the crown jewels of St. Pete’s park system.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.