Wednesday, November 7, 2007

To Park or Not to Park

My apologies to the Bard, but let me make this perfectly clear:


This past Friday at the Friday Morning Group, we had yet another lively discussion. This one centered on the City as the Art.

There was not a politician in sight last Friday, but somehow the conversation got turned onto an upcoming issue the City Council will be facing. When the City passed its long in development new set of Land Development Regulations (LDRs), one major item remained unsettled: What to do with Al Lang Stadium.

The new LDRs created, amongst other things, a brand new zoning district called Downtown Center - Parks (DC-P). The areas currently zoned as DC-P can be seen on this map in green. Areas zoned DC-P include Williams Park, North Straub Park, South Straub Park, Pioneer Park, Demens Landing, Spa Beach and the new Albert Whited Park. Notably absent from this list is Al Lang Stadium, and oh by the way, the property the Mahaffey Theatre now occupies as well as the property to which the Dali is planned to relocate.

Those areas, shown as blue on the map, are in the DC-3 zoning district. DC-3 is basically the downtown waterfront district. One thing that is evident from the map is the myth of the unbroken string of downtown waterfront parks, at least as far as zoning goes. The park chain is broken by the Museum of Fine Arts, the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and, of course, the Al Lang / Bayfront Center (now the Mahaffey Theatre and Dali) plot.

What is sparking concern about the zoning classification of Al Lang is the fact that the Devil Rays will no longer hold Spring Training at Al Lang after this upcoming season. Without a Spring Training tenant, speculation about what will happen to Al Lang is running rampant. St. Petersburg has hosted Spring Training baseball games on its downtown waterfront since 1914. I am in the camp of those who wish to see that rich part of our history continue into the future. The problem seems to be that the City administration does not appear to be making attracting a new Spring Training tenant to Al Lang a priority.

And therein lies the problem. Because the Al Lang site was not given a park zoning designation, there is a tremendous amount of concern in the community about just what the City administration may be cooking up for Al Lang. To prevent another surprise announcement on the City Hall steps, a very active movement is afoot to give the Al Lang site the added protection of parkland zoning. And just to be clear about that:
Many ideas have been bandied about regarding what would be the best use for Al Lang presuming baseball goes away from that site. A home for the Saturday Morning Market is oft mentioned. Also widely discussed is a plan for a walking trail that would connect Beach Drive directly to the Progress Energy Plaza with the Mahaffey, the Dali and the new airport park. One thing to remember about the Al Lang site: the Dali came to St. Pete lo those many years ago in part because a suitable site was available for it.

There is no doubt that the downtown waterfront park system is the jewel in this city's crown. It is a major part of what makes the city the beautiful canvas that we all paint on. And it looks like we will have the opportunity to repaint a portion of that canvas. We should consider very carefully what happens next. But just to be clear:

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