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Feelings mixed over plans for downtown Treasure Island
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TREASURE ISLAND – Whether the city of Treasure Island redevelops its downtown district and possible restrictions of parking on Sunset Beach took up the majority of discussion at the March 18 Treasure Island city commission meeting and workshop.

The downtown redevelopment plan has been stalled for a number of months for a variety of reasons, some of which included the transition to a new city manager and another being a lack of a specific direction.

As to the latter issue, City Manager Reid Silverboard proposed to expedite the issue during last week’s workshop. During the stall in the project, city staff has had a number of discussions and meetings about how to proceed and develop a strategy.

In taking the next step, Silverboard needed the commission to approve $50,000 in funding. The city had already spent $100,000 in consultant fees during the previous city manager administration under Ralph Stone who resigned in early 2007.

The commission, specifically Phil Collins and Ed Gayton, were rather hesitant to approving an additional $50,000. It’s not that the two commissioners are opposed to downtown redevelopment. In fact both are in favor of the project.

However, the two want a consensus of downtown business owners and landlords before approving the funds. In short, if the downtown businesses and real estate owners are not in favor of a redevelopment plan, the two don’t see the need to proceed with the project.

Gayton asked how many business leaders with downtown shops Silverboard had spoken to. Silverboard replied three. When Gayton then asked how many businesses were downtown and Silverboard noted roughly 50, Gayton grew irritated and began questioning Silverboard why the commission should approve the funds with only a vast minority of businesses signing off.

This, in turn, irritated Silverboard who noted if the city is to develop a plan that the businesses would approve of, the next step would cost $50,000.

Collins later noted his personal attempts to find a common ground with the downtown businesses in recent months have failed. Several citizens, both business people and non-business people, spoke on the subject.

Former mayor Julian Fant told of the many businesses that left the island for west St. Petersburg in the past three or four decades. While he was not against a downtown redevelopment, he is initially against the allocation of funds saying, “How do we know any of these businesses will come back?”

But several citizens who have businesses or business interests downtown spoke, in some cases emotionally, that if the city doesn’t do something soon, downtown will become a virtual vacant wasteland where only small bars will survive.

Dominique, president of the Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce, noted that often tourists come into her office and ask, “What is there to do?” With so many businesses having closed in recent years, partially due to red tide outbreaks and partially due to the causeway bridge being closed, has few options to point them toward.

Other business owners noted that they already have noticed a trend of tourists and citizens to shop at the newly redeveloped John’s Pass in Madeira Beach which continues to lure away potential customers.

Larry Lunn, who recently lost in his bid for District 2 commission seat to Gayton, urged the commission to approve the funds saying, “I have learned that if you don’t move forward, you move backward.” The issue will be placed on the agenda for further discussion at the April 1 city commission meeting.

Sunset Beach parking

Also during the workshop, a petition containing 190 signatures of Sunset Beach residents was forwarded to the commission.

The residents are asking the commission to require vehicles parking in Sunset Beach neighborhoods to display a $3 parking decal, similar to an ordinance used in St. Pete Beach.

Several residents spoke to the commission noting parking has grown so difficult in their neighborhood, they often cannot leave their residences because they are either blocked in or parked vehicles on both sides of the street leave too narrow of a space to drive through.

Some residents claim when they asked police to either write parking tickets or tow the cars, the police stated there was little they could do. When the residents asked police what would happen if an emergency vehicle was required to get through, the police countered the emergency vehicles would just plow through the parked cars to make way.

These stories brought audible gasps and groans from the nearly 80 residents in attendance. Commissioners were equally frustrated with the alleged police responses.

“We are the residents,” said Robbie Welborn who along with Kathy Mattice presented the petition. “(Parking) is an ongoing and escalating problem.”

“I have countless stories,” Mattice said. The parking issue “has affected our quality of lives on Sunset Beach. Each year the parking problem increases.”

Some residents claimed the visitors often leave behind trash and in some cases urinate onto residents’ lawns. Others have reported property damage.

Terri Guth, a Sunset Beach resident, noted her mailbox was run over during a peak parking time and has seen her driveway blocked by excessive parking.

“It’s a catastrophe waiting to happen,” she said.

Commissioner Alan Bildz, who represents Sunset Beach, pointed a finger at patrons of Caddy’s on the Beach as the main culprits. Silverboard suggested, to his knowledge, the establishment was not violating any code. Silverboard noted he would investigate additional alternatives to parking decals, such as limiting parking for residents-only during specific hours of the day.

The issue also will be on the April 1 meeting agenda.
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