On Tuesday night, the St. Pete mayoral campaign was held at the Azalea Baptist Church on 22nd Avenue North and 79th Street, where the candidates fielded questions at a relatively low key debate.
On the same day as the debate, St. Pete Polls released a new survey that showed Rick Kriseman in a near tie with Mayor Bill Foster, with Kathleen Ford in a distant third — numbers that created tension between the now front-running candidates.
After Krisesman referred to the desultory Baywalk shopping complex as an “eyesore,” Foster rebuked him, saying it is a construction zone.
“I can assure you this thing is happening,” the mayor said about a revamped Baywalk, which will now be called “The Shops of St.Pete.” Tapping into his inner '60s persona, Foster said the new complex would be “out of sight.”
The candidates (who also included Paul Congemi) were asked about the situation with the Rays and Tropicana Field, as well as what would happen with the area if the team moved and the stadium got razed.
Ford said that a convention center would be an ideal choice to replace it, but cautioned that there would be millions of dollars spent on environmental remediation before anything could be built there.
Foster called 85 acres of contiguous property “an urban planners dream.” He threw out numerous development possibilities, from retail and hotels to convention centers and parks.
Kriseman said he envisioned creating a diverse task force of representatives throughout the city, and that he’d like the new site to be “completely off the grid from an energy standpoint.”
Regarding the very real possibility that the Lens could be history in a week, Kriseman reiterated that he was the first candidate with a plan to prepare for the occurrence, and, once again, Foster blasted him.
“Mr. Kriseman was the first to take a poll and then form an opinion. But before that we had never heard from him,“ the mayor cracked.
“There’s a great difference between what you’re going to do and what I’ve already done,“ Foster added, alluding to his creation of the 828 alliance, which is charged with preparing a report for him by next week on the city's options if the Lens goes down to defeat.
Kriseman came back at Foster with the fact that the Sweetbay grocery store chain deserted Midtown (and many other places in Florida) earlier this year. Foster said he would have exciting news on that soon, but Kriseman said a year before the store's closing announcement was made, administration officials met with Sweetbay.
Kriseman added that he wasn’t there, but if Sweetbay had disclosed at that time that they were thinking of pulling out of the economically challenged area of the city, “it would have been nice if the community was advised of that so the process to bring somebody else in could have started a lot sooner, and it wouldn’t have been as vacant as long as it was vacant.”