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City studies makeover for Williams Park

Published May 11, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Williams Park, a one-time downtown hub that fell into disrepute more than a generation ago, is being targeted for 21st century revival.

A diverse task force whose job will be to give the park a serious makeover meets for the first time on June 18.

To begin, they'll tour the park and hear about its history, which dates to the late 19th century. It is situated between First and Second avenues N, between Third and Fourth streets.

The task force's chores will get tougher after the introduction. A big one, members say, is to figure out how to make the park "the" place to go in downtown St. Petersburg.

Doing so will require addressing two elements: homeless people and others who are socially disadvantaged, and the park terminal serving more than a dozen buses.

Entrepreneurs immediately adjacent to the park and people walking through the one-block-square green space long have complained about homeless people there. Likewise, fumes and noise from the buses have generated gripes.

"It's very important that Williams Park be served by transit. However, the specter of idling buses detracts from the whole concept of a park," said Don Shea, president of the Downtown Partnership, a business alliance.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, the county bus agency, will be part of the task force, which will look for ways to create a terminal with a more pleasant ambience.

Mayor Rick Baker is credited with suggesting the task force and bringing in downtown movers and shakers, which include such muscular enterprises as Progress Energy Florida and Kessler Enterprise.

Those two businesses on Thursday will announce plans for their new downtown development, which includes Progress Energy headquarters and a Kessler Grand business hotel.

Both projects will be built across Third Street N from the park.

Other businesses, churches, St. Petersburg College officials, social service agencies, members of the arts community and city officials also will be among task force participants.

All have a stake in how Williams Park's future plays out.

Shea says the goal is to "shift the center of gravity of downtown to the west," referring to the high-energy milieu that already exists near the waterfront and around the BayWalk and Jannus Landing blocks.

He likened downtown to the dynamics of a shopping mall, which do the best when vibrant "anchor" tenants exist on either end.

"That's essential we have that here," Shea said.

Initially, the task force plans to make something happen within a two- to five-year period, although the time frame will be refined once the task force starts meeting.

[Last modified May 11, 2005, 00:46:18]

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