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Voters might decide Bayfront Center's future

Council members agree to meet Tuesday with USF officials about a proposed lease of the city property, which would then go on the ballot.

By BRYAN GILMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 24, 2002


ST. PETERSBURG -- Voters may decide whether to lease the Bayfront Center to the University of South Florida, which might replace the outdated arena with a "world class conference center."

The St. Petersburg City Council agreed unanimously Thursday to discuss the idea on Tuesday with university officials, including USF president Judy Genshaft.

Leasing out the city-owned waterfront property requires voter approval, so council member John Bryan wants to put the question on the November ballot.

If voters said yes, the council would have three years after the vote to approve or reject the lease.

But some council members are not sold.

"I'm a little unsure about presupposing that this is what we should do," member Earnest Williams said. "I want the (Tuesday) workshop to explore what should happen at this facility."

Last September, the council began discussing the fate of the city-owned Bayfront Center, which requires an annual taxpayer subsidy of about $1.3-million.

The center holds the Mahaffey Theater and an arena. The aging arena has been able to draw few big-name events. It is outdated, leaks and needs hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs.

USF St. Petersburg campus vice president Bill Heller told the council last year that the university could run the property as a conference and student center. A new building would replace the arena. The theater would stay, maybe to be used in a USF theater program as well as for current community uses.

Council members received the idea enthusiastically but never took formal action on it. So Bryan pushed the issue forward again Thursday.

In other business Thursday, the council:

Unanimously passed without comment an ordinance that makes it illegal for people to expose themselves, or fondle others -- or to demand anyone to -- as a precursor to an act of prostitution.

The ordinance is intended help undercover police officers. Some prostitution suspects seek to identify undercover officers by demanding that they expose themselves, fondle someone or let themselves be fondled, according to a memo by assistant city attorney Al Galbraith.

Agreed to a pay a $75,513 fine and spend $300,000 on local environmental improvement as payment of penalties to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The Albert Whitted sewage treatment plant spilled 120-million gallons of treated wastewater into Tampa Bay over 44 days in 1999 after someone left the wrong valve open.

Decided to invite the Pinellas County School Board to come to St. Petersburg for a public, televised discussion about the new "school choice" system. The choice plan settles a decades-old school segregation lawsuit. But council member Bill Foster worries that parents do not yet know as much as they should about how the system will work.

"I'm afraid our kids won't have a real choice," he said.

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