ST. PETERSBURG — As voters’ rejection of the Lens pier project showed, when it comes to the city’s waterfront, they expect to have their say.
As much as any Florida city, St. Petersburg’s identity comes from its waterfront, which includes seven miles of almost contiguous publicly owned land from Coffee Pot Bayou south to Lassing Park.
That expanse, a legacy from early city leaders who wanted to keep the shoreline available to everyone, includes parks, museums, a pier and marina, a university and a sports stadium. Public ownership of that land is enshrined in the city’s charter, which prohibits the sale of city waterfront land, unless approved by referendum.
Now, for the first time, the city is developing a long-term master plan that will govern future development of the shoreline and generate ideas to continue downtown’s revitalization while preserving the city’s signature waterfront.
On Monday, the city will hold the first of several meetings to solicit ideas from residents. Later this month, a panel of experts from the Urban Land Institute will explore St. Petersburg and make recommendations for making the waterfront more of a draw for residents, tourists and businesses.
The discussion will include the future of Al Lang Stadium, Albert Whitted Airport, the city’s port and the nine acres of property that will become available when the water treatment plant near the airport is decommissioned. The final plan is expected to include recommendations on how to accommodate parking without clogging the shoreline with car parks, whether to add more marina slips for day-trippers to visit downtown, and how best to add public art to the waterfront.
Ideas for the waterfront are already being thrown out by city leaders and others, including a water park for children, a water-taxi service to Tampa, floating restaurants on barges, and a breakwater to make it safer to dock boats in Vinoy Basin.
“The waterfront is a living, breathing entity. It has changed dramatically over the years, and change is likely to continue,” said Dave Goodwin, the city’s director of planning and economic development. “The idea is to create a master plan that is the overarching guide to future-decision making for the waterfront.”
The importance of the plan to the business community is reflected in the involvement of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, which formed a community task force to ensure there is broad public input. The Chamber chipped in most of the $125,000 for the ULI analysis, and the city paid the rest.
“The waterfront is arguably our No. 1 asset when it comes to drawing businesses to St. Petersburg and our quality of life,” said Ross Preville, the task force’s chairman. “The Chamber felt that, along with the people who live here, we should have another set of eyes and bring in experts from all over the country.”
Headquartered near Washington D.C., the ULI is a nonprofit group that promotes responsible use of land. Its members from around the world work in all areas of land and real estate development.
It will provide a panel of about eight experts from across the country, Preville said.
The panelists will be given a wealth of information on the city’s history and current waterfront, including existing master plans for the airport, University of South Florida St. Petersburg and the Port of St. Petersburg that will be incorporated into the overall master plan. The city is required to adopt the plan by July 2015, a result of a 2011 charter amendment approved by voters.
The panel will visit St. Petersburg on Sept. 29 to see the city firsthand and interview stakeholders, such as business owners.
A draft report from the panel is expected on Oct. 4 with a final report due no more than 60 days later. The ULI report and information gleaned from public input sessions will feed the master plan, which likely will be produced by a consulting firm.
The Lens referendum is expected to heighten interest in the plan.
The project’s defeat was engineered by Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, a political action committee that formed in August 2012, believing that the city should complete the waterfront plan before deciding on a new pier.
“Stopping the Lens was the first step,” said Bill Balllard, a Snell Isle resident and one of the leaders of the group. “We believe there may be opportunities for a larger view of the waterfront than has presently been taken.”
The group does not have any stated goals for the waterfront but plans to participate in public meetings, Ballard said.
In the first public discussion on the pier since the referendum, Mayor Bill Foster announced Thursday that the city plans to survey residents before asking architects to submit design ideas.
That can take place in conjunction with development of the master plan, Goodwin said.
The first public meeting on the waterfront master plan is at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Student Activity Center, 200 Sixth Ave. S.