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Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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St. Pete leaders debate waterfront plan

— A new long-term plan to govern future development on the city’s signature waterfront will include Coffee Pot Bayou, but it may not include Lassing Park.

Balking at the almost $500,000 price tag for a new downtown waterfront master plan, city council members Thursday explored ways to lower that cost before the city agrees to a contract with AECOM, a Los-Angeles consultant firm hired to conduct the study that will likely spell out future plans for city icons like Al Lang Stadium and Albert Whitted Airport.

There were not too many options.

The plan initially was intended to cover roughly 7 miles of almost contiguous publicly owned waterfront from Coffee Pot Bayou in the north to Lassing Park in the south. Shortening the scope of the plan would only save about $55,000, council members learned at a workshop Thursday. Another option to cut an economic analysis from the study resulted in only a $25,000 savings.

In the end, the council agreed to continue drawing up a $475,000 contract for AECOM but to keep open the option of excluding the area around Lassing Park.

“Spending $55,000 to include them in a plan is pretty small when you consider the long-term effects,” Council Chairman Bill Dudley said. “Eventually, we will have to address that, and what will the cost be then?”

The city recently adopted a neighborhood study of the Old Southeast area that includes Lassing Park. It included input from residents there, a process that would be repeated if the park is included in the master plan study.

“If there is one thing that neighborhood is clear on it’s ‘leave my park the hell alone’,” council member Karl Nurse said. “Including Lassing is throwing money down a rat hole.”

The city is required to complete the master plan by July 2015, the result of a voter-approved referendum.

The council’s discussion again highlighted divisions over spending on the city’s downtown, which some council members say receives too many resources while other parts of the city are ignored.

But Councilman Steve Kornell said paying almost $500,000 to an outside firm was too expensive for a plan and questioned whether it could be done by city staff.

“We never had a conversation with the public about how much it would cost,” Kornell said.

Complicating the study is that the city still is trying to figure out what to do about its pier. The inverted pyramid pier was closed to the public at the end of May, the first step toward its demolition and replacement with the Lens design.

But that project was shelved after voters rejected it in a referendum.

Mayor Rick Kriseman is assembling a new pier team to agree on what amenities to include.

He admitted that ideally that process should come after the waterfront master plan, but he said that would delay the opening of the new pier until as late as 2020, leaving the city without a significant waterfront attraction for up to six years.

“We have a community that is anxious for a replacement, whether it’s refurbishment of the existing pier or a completely new structure,” Kriseman said. “We cannot have that pier in that condition continuing to deteriorate.”

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