St. Pete Beach revives street sign debate

A week after city commissioners voted not to fund the purchase of decorative street signs for Pass-A-Grille and Corey Avenue, it was decided a scaled-down version of the issue will be put back on the agenda for consideration sometime next month.

ST. PETE BEACH — A week after city commissioners voted not to fund the purchase of decorative street signs for Pass-A-Grille and Corey Avenue, it was decided a scaled-down version of the issue will be put back on the agenda for consideration sometime next month.

Last week, Commissioners Ward Friszolowski, Doug Izzo and Christopher Graus voted against a plan to replace traditional street signs in Pass-A-Grille with ornate historical versions. They argued the city should first fund and address major must-have issues, such as street flooding and pothole repair, before taking on like-to-have projects such as new street signs.

At that time, Friszolowski noted, “It’s a nice thing to have, but we have pressing issues; we have flooding issues … the pothole issues. I just think that this is something we ought to reconsider sometime in the future, but not until we deal with issues of flooding.”

Izzo added that residents in his district look forward to a time when they can drive down the road without their cars going into potholes. “They don’t really care what the street sign looks like,” he said. “I just want to make sure attention is given to some of these neighborhoods that haven’t seen anything.”

However, that sentiment seemed to change at the Dec. 8 city commission meeting, when Historic Preservation Board member Holly Young addressed commissioners.

“A couple of year ago the Preservation Board made a request to the city for a budgetary item of decorative street signs in the Pass-A-Grille Historic Overlay (District),” she said. “I understand that is an approved budget item this year and that a design has been picked out. I also understand there has been discussion about taking the design of that street sign and doing all of St. Pete Beach. As a representative of the Historic Preservation Board, I’m here tonight to thank you for the budgetary item that’s been approved, and request that you leave the signs that we had requested in Pass-A-Grille to be those of a historic decorative nature.”

She argued that the city should not use the same design all over St. Pete Beach. “The purpose of that was to distinguish the (Pass-A-Grille) area as historic and separate from the rest of the city of St. Pete Beach, to attract more visitors down to that area, and also to let our residents know that that was a designated Historic Overlay (District),” she said.

Replacing signs citywide “defeats the purpose in which we had intended,” Young said.

City Manager Alex Rey told commissioners they would be revisiting some budget items and allocations in January, and “at that point we can take the opportunity to revisit (signs) just in Pass-A-Grille.”

The city had set aside $125,000 for signage in that part of the city.

Mayor Al Johnson said he felt it “really didn’t make a lot of sense” to have the same signs throughout the city. “Different neighborhoods have different character,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to establish a division amongst the city, but everybody’s unique. I think, maybe, what we ought to do is consider different neighborhoods to have different signs, and that’s a good place to start with the overlay (in Pass-A-Grille). We’ve got North Beach, we’ve got Lido, we’ve got Belle Vista, and Don CeSar Place; we’ve got all these different areas we can treat a little differently to show people it’s a pretty unique city.”

In keeping with tradition for commissioners to not address comments made during the public input portion of city meetings, those who dissented the prior week did not respond after Young made her statement.

The issue of whether to fund decorative street signs will be reconsidered by city commissioners sometime in January.

Changes planned for historic Merry Pier

City commissioners approved a 5-year extension to the city’s lease with Merry Pier Partners, while considering plans to possibly demolish and rebuild the pier while downsizing its boat-slip area.

One of the city’s historic landmarks at Pass-A-Grille Way and 8th Avenue, the 118-year old Merry Pier was named after Captain Kenneth B. Merry, who lived in Pass-a-Grille for 83 years. It’s considered the first store on the Gulf beaches, opening 55 years before the city was incorporated in 1957, selling bait, tools and groceries.

It is now owned by the City of St. Pete Beach and operated by Merry Pier Partners. According to its website, “Today, the pier is a popular fishing spot for visitors and locals with (a) well-stocked bait and tackle shop. A fresh fish market has been added and the store provides a convenient and reliable stop for snacks, drinks, picnic supplies and souvenir items. Fishing rods and bicycles are available for rent.”

Rey told commissioners the city has been discussing with the operator the size and extent of the existing pier and the fact that only three of the boat slips have been continually used and subleased over the years.

“Given the demand that exists, we basically have agreed that in the renovation budget that we have for the pier, we are going to downsize the pier to basically match what the demand is,” he said.

The city will not be rebuilding slips on the north side of the pier, Rey explained, but will rebuild those on the south side, which are in better shape and “more compatible with the revenue stream that we are getting for the pier.”

The city manager advised commissioners the contractor felt total demolition was more practical, so the city is working on pricing and could bring the issue back to the commission.

Commissioners voted unanimously to extend the lease with Merry Pier Partners.