City considers building tower for cell phones

Some see city revenue and better reception as possible outcomes. Also a positive NIMBY solution.

By CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published September 23, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG- With property tax revenue no longer a sure bet, city officials have begun looking into another source of income: the cell phone business.

Council members are considering a proposal that would give the city the authority to build its own cell phone tower. The tower, which would be leased to multiple wireless carriers, could potentially pump more than $4.2-million into the city's coffers over a 30-year span, while also improving cell phone service in areas suffering from poor reception, said council member Bill Foster.

"There is very little risk and there is a lot of cash flow," said Foster, who pitched the idea to his fellow council members at a meeting Thursday. "So it's a pretty good investment and it serves the needs of our residents."

The tower would initially cost the city $300,000. Despite the current backlash against government spending, Foster said he thinks the city could find the money to cover the start-up costs.

"We need this," he said. "We need something that has a positive cash flow."

The 150- to 200-foot tower could be erected on city-owned properties such as a water treatment facility or a golf course maintenance yard away from public view, Foster said.

Several council members said they needed to learn more about the proposal before they could commit to the project. The idea was tabled for discussion at a future meeting in November.

Council member Jeff Danner said the cell phone tower seemed like a good investment.

"Everyone is just waiting to hear more of the details," he said.

The idea came to Foster after Shore Acres residents recently gathered to vote against a proposed cell phone tower in their neighborhood, despite a shared desire for better cell phone coverage.

"They do not want it in the neighborhood," said Patti Cook, president of the Shores Acres Civic Association. "The majority of residents were concerned about the height of the tower ... some had health concerns as well."

However, Cook said residents would be thrilled if the city built a tower on its own property, away from a residential area.

"It's an excellent idea if it brings in more money for the city," she said.

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