Pinellas Park's image is going down a tube
By ANNE LINDBERG
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2001
PINELLAS PARK -- Officials have fretted for years about the city's image as a home for rednecks who park their cars on cinder blocks. A big, brown, ugly pipe hasn't helped at all.
The so-called monotube that overwhelms the intersection of Park Boulevard and 66th Street N has become a magnet for scorn -- like the failed French parking meters in downtown St. Petersburg or the roundabout in Clearwater. Worse, much of the ridicule has been aimed at Pinellas Park, which had nothing to do with the eyesore.
"It's like other things in Pinellas Park. Sometimes when you put them up on blocks, they just don't fit," said radio disc jockey Mason Dixon, referring to a gap between the bottom of the pipe and where it's bolted to the sidewalk.
WYUU's Web site (http://www.u92.com) doctored a photograph that appeared in a local edition of the Times, superimposing a toilet atop the pipe. Web site visitors are invited to name the pipe. Some suggestions: Pipey LePew and Pinellas Park Brown Arch.
"It's funny because as soon as we start talking about it, my two Pinellas lines start lighting up," said Dixon, host of a morning show on WYUU-FM 92.5. "This has really generated some fun. We're having a blast with it."
The monotube is a state Department of Transportation creation, part of a $2-million widening of that busy intersection. A second turn lane will be added in each direction.
The monotube is big for a reason, the DOT says. The pipe has to withstand winds up to 150 mph, a requirement for traffic signals after so many were lost in 1992 during Hurricane Andrew.
Pinellas Park's monotube is the first in Tampa Bay to carry both signals and road signs. Two others -- in Largo and on the Suncoast Parkway -- hold only road signs.
Pinellas Park is paying a high price for being the first. The tube, and the city, have become a bull's-eye, and officials are tiring of the attention.
City Council member Rick Butler said he received phone calls from residents urging him to call Dixon's morning show to counter some of the misinformation.
Butler declined, saying a phone call would just fuel more jokes.
"I'm not really happy being the experimental poster child of light hangers," Butler said. "I just would like them to know that it's really not us, it's DOT and their infinite wisdom."
Still, Butler said he worries about the misrepresentation that it's a sewer pipe.
The radio station Web site incorrectly asks: "What is this? Actually it's a sewer pipe that spans the Park Blvd. and 66th St. intersection in Pinellas Park. That's right . . . a sewer pipe. . . carrying . . . well . . . we don't know! Who thought this was a good idea?"
Butler first heard the sewer pipe reference on the radio Monday while driving his son Ricky to school.
"They started talking about the brown tube and I'm, 'Oh, no. Oooooooh, no, here we go,' " Butler said. Then, the disc jockey called it a sewer pipe, and Butler's son asked him, "Why are they lying?"
"The sad part about it is they know it's not a sewer line. It's their shtick."
City Manager Jerry Mudd also seemed touchy about the monotube. In response to questions about the city being the object of jokes, he dodged the issue. Instead, he repeated that the monotube is a DOT structure and city officials are trying to "gather more information on that structure from the Florida DOT."
That information, he said, would include pictures that would show what monotubes look like once signals and signs are attached.
Marian Pscion, DOT spokeswoman, also heard the jokes.
It's to be expected, she said, when something is new. She defended the brown color, saying that "chestnut bronze" is the same color as the streetlights along Park Boulevard. Pscion said this was an effort to make the pipe blend in with the landscape.
She also resented the representations that the monotube is a sewer pipe.
"It's not doing justice . . . it's not informing the public," Pscion said. "We all have a responsibility to inform the public."
Dixon, the disc jockey, said it's all in fun. "I'm not sure that we've convinced anybody that it's an above-ground sewer pipe," he said. "It just looks like a sewer pipe. . . . There's a way they could make that thing a bit more aesthetically pleasing."
Dixon conceded that some of the jokes have been vicious, but those have come from the people who've called in and not the radio personalities. Most of the calls and the e-mail that the station has received, he said, have come from Pinellas Park residents who do not like the sight of the pipe.
Dixon said he was surprised the pipe has remained a hot topic for this long, but eventually, he said, "It will wind down."
Terry England, one of the owners of England Brothers Construction Co. and a former president of the Pinellas Park/Mid-County Chamber of Commerce, agreed that the pipe is not helping the city's efforts to improve its image.
"It certainly doesn't do anything to help our image when we have spent so much time to do things that make sense," England said. He said he wishes the DOT could have experimented elsewhere first.
"We're the guinea pigs of Pinellas County," England said. But England is keeping his sense of humor. He referred to Frank Herbert's science fiction classic Dune, and the desert planet where a mind-bending spice is mined.
"I thought it was a spice extractor from Dune," England said. "I guess it's just going to take some getting used to. I don't know that it'll ever be quite like the Eiffel Tower. I don't think we'll ever have tourists coming to visit it."
At least one person hopes that the talk never dies down.
Rita Bott, executive director of the Pinellas Park chamber, said the monotube was the hot topic at a meeting Monday for area chamber officials. "I knew they all wanted one in their city," Bott said. "I knew they were jealous.
"They were all saying it was a tourist attraction. Chamber execs see things that way. We all know the value of having something unusual."
Bott liked the idea of painting it. Her favorite: Paint the pipe gold and make the rings into "diamond rings, great big diamond rings." She also advocates hanging a sign: "Welcome to Pinellas Park."
"I think we're all having a good time with it," Bott said. "As time goes on, we're going to love this pipe, I know we will. It's going to make giving directions much easier."
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