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Beach Park

Office proposal angers neighbors

Beach Park residents will go by the busload to a City Council meeting to protest a plan to close down a waterfront street.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 7, 2003


A plan to close a waterfront street to make room for office buildings is drawing heavy criticism from neighbors who oppose adding more traffic to the area.

About 100 residents of Beach Park and the condos and homes along Mariner Street packed a meeting Tuesday night to debate a proposal to bulldoze a section of Bay Center Drive, a popular spot for walking, fishing and watching sunsets.

Highwoods Properties has asked the city to vacate the street so they can build two 205,000-square-foot office buildings overlooking Old Tampa Bay. The request goes to the City Council on Thursday.

If approved, the developers intend to buy four aging buildings in the existing office park and replace them with seven-story buildings and a six-level parking garage for about 1,800 cars.

The $65-million project also would include about $900,000 for landscaping on the site and near the entrances.

Neighbors argued the two-lane streets around the office complex couldn't handle an influx of cars, especially during rush hour. Some said they worried more about the congestion than losing the street.

"The road is a non-issue. Traffic is the issue," said Dennis Diecidue, who lives on Mariner. "All this is just smoke and mirrors. We could find a way to live without Bay Center Drive, but we don't want the traffic."

Getting permission to close the street is crucial to the project's success, said Steve Meyers, vice president of Highwoods' Tampa division. Without it, they would have to reduce the size and location of the buildings, making the project unfeasible or undesirable to prospective tenants, he said.

Whoever buys the site for office space won't have to go to the city for zoning. The area was zoned for office buildings years ago and allows more parking and higher buildings than Highwoods wants.

In an effort to satisfy neighbors, Highwoods has proposed creating a 25-foot park area along the water and walkways to Mariner and Kennedy Boulevard. Developers also would build a public road through the office park and open the garage to park visitors.

People still didn't like the idea.

"It sounds like we'd be losing a lot of rights we currently enjoy," said Kay McRae, who lives on nearby Sandpiper Road.

The latest efforts to close Bay Center Drive aren't the first. In 1997, neighbors killed a similar plan, saying the public should not lose a waterfront city street. Even though the office complex owns and maintains a 10-foot swath along the water, owners have let the public use it as an unofficial park.

The street issue is scheduled to go before the council at 10 a.m. Thursday at City Hall, 315 E Kennedy Blvd. Residents plan to charter a bus.

In preparation, homeowners Arnold Hubbard and Carlos Duque have organized a block party at 2 p.m. Sunday along Bay Center Drive to rally opposition.

-- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or thurston@sptimes.com .

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