Last August, as Tampa welcomed thousands of visitors in town for the Republican National Convention, a 75-foot tower touting St. Petersburg went up on the grassy median at the west end of the Howard Frankland bridge.
The tower, which spells out the city’s name vertically and says “Welcome!,” cost $600,000 to build and was paid for by local mortgage executive and music promoter Bill Edwards.
Now, Florida taxpayers are spending nearly $300,000 on landscaping accents around the monument.
This week, crews began installing palm trees and landscape beds near the welcome monument. The work is expected to be completed within 30 to 45 days, according to the city.
The project is expected to cost about $270,000 and is being paid for with a highway beautification grant from the Florida Department of Transportation. The money comes from the city’s annual state allocation of about $1 million for roadway landscaping projects, said Tom Gibson, the city’s engineering director.
Fifty-eight tall Washingtonia palms are being planted on the back side of the monument, and nine Sylvester palms are being planted on either side. Workers also are planting ornamental yellow-flowering ground cover.
On the other side of the bridge, there will be two rows of 28 palm trees and another bed of flowering ground cover.
“That’s our gateway feature,” Gibson said.
With thousands of RNC delegates and other visitors staying in Pinellas County during last year’s convention, city leaders wanted to make sure people took note of St. Petersburg as they crossed over the Howard Frankland every day.
“The timing was right,” Edwards said in a statement issued by the city last year, when the sign was dedicated. “Now and in the future, we must project the image of a diverse, exciting, economically refreshed St. Petersburg, and the tower is an impressive beacon of that image.”
The monument can be seen from as far as a mile away, according to the city. Lights on its dome and cornices make it visible at night.
Even though the tower is miles away from what most people would consider St. Petersburg, the land it sits on is technically within the city limits. St. Petersburg annexed the property in 2004.