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Communal fountain more drip than spurt

The Millennium Fountain, flat with water jets, is still a go, but a site and a design will precede private fundraising.

By BRYAN GILMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 12, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Purists point out that the new millennium technically does not begin until 2001. As it turns out, that's the earliest a proposed Millennium Fountain could be built in St. Petersburg.

"It has slowed down," said Mayor David Fischer, a member of the committee working on the project, but "I think it is still a viable project."

The idea of an interactive fountain -- similar to those on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach or in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park -- was proposed last year as a lasting monument to St. Petersburg's celebrations of the year 2000. The City Council committed $250,000 of city money if fountain backers could raise an equal amount privately.

Such fountains are not basins with sculptures. They are flat surfaces with dozens of computer-controlled water jets hidden beneath them. The jets squirt water into the air in unpredictable patterns, and adults and children can walk across the fountain and play in the spray.

Phil Graham, co-chairman of the First Night St. Petersburg subcommittee pushing the project, envisions a fountain here that is smaller than those in West Palm Beach or Atlanta, about 50 feet in diameter. He thinks a fountain would draw people to a public space to meet each other and have fun.

"The communities that have these kinds of interactive fountains -- it's just absolutely magical to see all those people playing in that fountain," he said.

But there has been no private fundraising and no design work on the fountain because the subcommittee is still trying to pick a place for it to go. The site needs electricity, public restrooms, parking, space for 1,000 people and so forth.

"We didn't feel like we could go out and do any fundraising until we had a site and a design," said Pat Mason, executive director of First Night St. Petersburg.

Late last month, members of the group toured six possible locations. Here are their general impressions, based on Mason's notes:

Central Avenue between 26th and 28th streets: No open space, no public land, and no developer to incorporate the fountain into a larger project.

Future YMCA site near Central Plaza: No restrooms or amenities. YMCA would have to deed land to city.

Azalea Park in western St. Petersburg: Lots of open space, limited parking. Not centrally located in the city.

Crescent Lake Park: Too small.

Flora Wylie Park in the North Shore neighborhood: Plenty of space, but already heavily used by athletes and dog owners.

Spa Beach near The Pier downtown: Plenty of room, existing bathrooms. Accessible by city trolly. Sometimes used for special events such as the X Trials sporting competition and car and boat shows.

The Spa Beach site is Mayor Fischer's favorite.

"I'm concerned that it be in a very public place, where people don't have to search it out, someplace the public normally goes so that as many people as possible would have access to it," he said. "I have always thought of the parks along the waterfront."

The group will meet again at 4 p.m. April 19 at City Hall to try to narrow the list.

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