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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Judy Hill: Lots of stories to tell in St. Pete, Pinellas

Newcomers and visitors to St. Petersburg could easily draw the impression from the news that the city’s reach begins and ends with Beach Drive, the Vinoy Hotel, Coffee Pot Bayou, BayWalk — or whatever it’s called now — Snell Isle, Old Northeast, The Pier and Tropicana Field.

Midtown comes up once in a while, such as the stories about the Sweetbay supermarket’s closing, leaving the neighborhood without a large, chain grocer. Generally, though, when other parts of town are covered, the stories are hard news about crime, scandal, accidents or disasters.

Typical are the ubiquitous shots of folks in canoes paddling down flooded streets in Shore Acres after a storm.

And St. Petersburg is just one example. The truth is, we don’t hear enough about the variety of communities across Pinellas County.

This is not a slam at my colleagues. It’s the reality of the news business in 2013. Newsroom staffs have shrunk significantly, so there are fewer people to cover our diverse communities and their abundance of stories.

The Tampa Tribune doesn’t get a pass on this at all. In fact, it’s had an off-again, on-again relationship with Pinellas County for years.

Asking me to write this column is one way the Tribune aims to do a better job of reflecting the people and neighborhoods that make St. Petersburg and Pinellas County so interesting.

Truthfully, you may actually be lucky if you live in one of those “quiet” neighborhoods where hard news rarely happens. But those of us who’ve lived here awhile know there’s far more to our communities than what is deemed “news.”

Waterfront neighborhoods similar to Snell Isle ring St. Pete, for example, while communities such as Kenwood, Old Southeast, Roser Park and Uptown rival Old Northeast for historic and fascinating architecture, if not price. West of downtown, neighborhoods such as Jungle Terrace and the Tyrone area have their share of characters, too.

Great stories are waiting in Pinellas’ other communities – from Gulfport and South Pasadena to Tarpon Springs and East Lake – and even in the typical middle class developments built and expanded in St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park and elsewhere in the 1960s. We won’t ignore any of them.

I’m familiar with many parts of Pinellas County. I’ve lived in St. Petersburg, off and on, all my life and have worked in St. Petersburg, Largo and Clearwater.

My first home in St. Pete was a tiny, worn tourist bungalow in then hard-scrabble Lowe’s Camp at 54th Avenue North and 28th Street.

Next, it was a house jerry-rigged out of two World War II surplus Quonset huts moved to a lot in nearby Lealman fronted by a dirt road and a deep ditch that filled with water, mosquitoes, tadpoles and barefoot neighborhood kids in the summer.

I was here when the Million Dollar Pier came down and the upside down pyramid went up. The race to spiff up the city’s downtown waterfront to befit the new pier came soon after.

Some of you may remember Bay Plaza, the grand project that was to turn around the area that will become, if plans pan out, the Shops at St. Pete. What ultimately became a relatively modest shopping area was supposed to be part of an upscale, high-visibility, high-dollar shopping mecca that was three times the size of BayWalk.

One historic building was turned to rubble because of Bay Plaza. The Soreno Hotel on Beach Drive stood smack in the middle of that grand vision and was blown up in 1992. The demolition was used at the end of “Lethal Weapon 3,” with Danny Glover and Mel Gibson.

In the credits, the city is called “St. Petersberg” — an ignominious end to a grand building and, as it turned out, a grand but unworkable plan.

I covered some of those stories during my nearly 30-year career as a journalist.

I’m not new to news or the Tribune either.

I worked at the paper as a reporter, editor and columnist for nearly 20 years before being laid off in 2007.

It’s an honor now to be writing columns about the city I love and that has been my home since before TVs and telephones were common in residences.

So, please let us know what’s going where you live. We’ll cover as many of them as we can.

My email address runs with this column, which will run every Sunday.

Hope to talk to you soon.

[email protected]

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