tampabay.com

Mooring field gets a go vote

The council rejects the idea of a referendum but could relent.

By CRISTINA SILVA
Published April 22, 2007


GULFPORT - A city of 12,600 that calls itself the Gateway to the Gulf could be the first municipality in Pinellas to install a mooring field in its neighboring waters.

The Gulfport City Council voted in favor of putting a mooring field in Boca Ciega Bay alongside its downtown area after a heated Thursday night meeting where residents squared off in public debate.

The vote signaled a move toward making the field a reality in Gulfport, even as county and St. Petersburg officials have postponed their plans to install a mooring field out of economic and environmental concerns.

The field could attract boaters who want to shop at local restaurants and stores, said council member John "Ted" Phillips.

"Business deals are never guaranteed, but the city should try," he said. "If we don't plan ahead we go backwards. ... I believe in investing in the future."

Mooring buoys have increasingly been touted by Pinellas officials as the potential solution to a growing boat slip shortage in the past two years.

The mooring field would cost Gulfport about $241,000, according to estimates by City Manager Tom Brobeil.

It could take 10 years before the city earned that money back through profits produced by the mooring field.

Still, the project has been touted as an economic savior for the city's downtown business owners, who have been struggling with soaring taxes and insurance costs.

City officials estimate the increase of boaters could pump $250,000 in gross sales each year into downtown Gulfport and help keep afloat many businesses.

But opponents of the field said it was irresponsible of the city to commit to a quarter-million-dollar plan even as state legislators were considering putting a cap on the amount of property taxes a municipality could collect.

If this happens, Gulfport would have to slash its budget tremendously.

"The mooring field is a want; it is not a need right now," resident Jim Newman said.

Proponents of the plan lauded the council's decision.

"As a taxpayer, I see the mooring field as part of the solution," resident Carolyn Needleman said.

Gulfport Mayor Michael Yakes, who voted against the field, said voters should have the final say on whether the city will install the mooring buoys or not.

That idea was shot down by the council Thursday, but several council members said they would be more open to such a referendum once the mooring field wins county and state approvals.

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.