The Case for a Park

Green space would serve more people than an airport

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Citizens for a New Waterfront Park has worked for the past year to give the voters of St. Petersburg a historic choice: to keep Albert Whitted Airport, an outmoded facility that serves only a handful of people, or to replace it with a public waterfront park that will serve us all.

CNWP is an independent group of city residents with one goal only: to create that new park. We have no hidden agenda and no secret plan. Indeed, our entire plan is contained in our proposed City Charter amendment — Question #3 on the Nov. 4 ballot. That amendment will create a new waterfront park of at least 55 acres, including more than a mile of shoreline; will keep the entire property in public ownership and for public use; and will strengthen the control that the citizens of St. Petersburg have over their waterfront land.

Among the issues:

Public Control: The citizens of St. Petersburg should control their own waterfront. Unfortunately, the handful of pilots who use Albert Whitted and their allies on City Council believe the opposite: The charter amendments they have proposed (#1 and #2) would hand control of the airport — forever — over to the pilots and the FAA. To maintain control of their own waterfront, voters must vote no on both those questions.

CNWP workers during the summer gathered the signatures of 15,000 registered voters to put the park issue on the ballot. Our proposal requires full public participation as plans are made for the new park. And, our proposal strengthens the citizens' veto over any future attempts to sell or lease our public land.

Environment: Albert Whitted Airport is a significant source of noise, air and groundwater pollution, and the pilots want to make it worse. In a twist of logic, they state that because they have polluted the land for years, they should be entitled to control it forever. Once they have that control, they want to dump more than 340,000 tons of fill into Tampa Bay, in order to lengthen the existing runways so that corporate jets can land there and increase levels of noise pollution.

Creation of a new waterfront park would help restore the natural environment. Parks are often located over polluted land because park uses do not disturb the soil and thus bring pollutants to the surface and release them into the air. Likewise, there is no need to move the nearby wastewater treatment plant, as airport supporters have claimed. Every wastewater treatment plant in the city is located in or adjacent to a park or recreation area.

Costs: A City Hall report estimates the total cost of a new waterfront park at $28.8-million. Significant state, federal and private grants are available for such projects. (In the past three years alone, St. Petersburg has obtained more than $13-million in recreation and park grants.) In addition, St. Petersburg has dedicated revenue sources for park and recreation projects. Between Penny for Pinellas and the Weeki Wachee Trust Fund, our city spends $60-million per decade to improve our parks. If the citizens of St. Petersburg want a new park, the money will be available to build it. The Airport Master Plan, meanwhile, is estimated to cost $38-million over the next 20 years, with about $8-million to come from local taxes.

Economics: A recent economic analysis estimated that in 1999 the airport produced $8-million in goods and services and had 141 jobs with an average pay of $16,000.

There were more than 100 events in our downtown parks last year that required city permits. Based on information from city sources, the eight largest events alone (such as Taste for Pinellas and Mainsail Arts Festival) had an economic impact of $9.7-million. These events created a full-time equivalent of 264 jobs within our community. In addition, the waterfront parks greatly enhance the property values of adjacent neighborhoods, thereby adding to the city's tax base.

Quality of Life: The most important reason to support a new waterfront park is that it will improve our quality of life. The size and shape of the new park would be ideal for large events, where virtually the entire community could gather together. Our downtown parks serve two functions. They oftentimes host large events, but just as important they are quiet oases of green for local residents and visitors. This new park would not only remove the negative impacts of the airport to the near southside neighborhoods, but would also extend to them the same benefits that North Shore Park has given to the near northside neighborhoods for almost 100 years.

In 1906, the citizens of St. Petersburg chose to clean up the burgeoning industrial uses that were littering our waterfront and to create one of the most beautiful waterfront park systems in the world. It was an optimistic, ambitious decision that has reaped untold benefits for our city. Give your great-grandchildren the same gift that your great-grandparents gave you. Vote YES on 3 for a new waterfront park.

Peter Belmont is chair of Citizens for a New Waterfront Park. He wrote in response to the Planet's endorsement of the airport, which can be read at http://www.weeklyplanet.com/2003-10-09/cover.html.

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