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July 4 party to snub Bubba

The deal for St. Petersburg's fireworks deals out Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- The city will pair with Clear Channel Communications on a Fourth of July fireworks celebration at The Pier -- but only if the media conglomerate keeps Bubba away.

The city of St. Petersburg banned Bubba the Love Sponge and his local station from its July 4th festivities.
Before signing an agreement with Clear Channel, owner of eight area stations, the City Council insisted that neither popular and controversial morning deejay Bubba the Love Sponge Clem nor his Clear Channel station, WXTB (98 Rock) be allowed to participate in the concerts and fireworks.

"I think a lot of us are worried about the sponge man and all the publicity that surrounded that," said City Council member Bill Foster, during a review of an agreement the council was set to sign with Clear Channel and The Pier's manager. "Just work on the special sponge language, and we'll be OK."

Clem was recently charged with felony animal cruelty after a wild boar was castrated and then slaughtered during his morning broadcast Feb. 27. He is awaiting trial.

Some council members were concerned that action by the city to ban the station might be construed as censorship.

"I understand we want to promote a family wholesome event here, but we need to be careful about censorship," said City Council member Earnest Williams. "We could certainly say we don't want this individual here, and if that's the issue and I hear that from council members, I'd rather do that than saying the station can't send anyone."

City Leisure Services Administrator Lee Metzger said Clear Channel officials agreed to keep 98 Rock and Clem out of the lineup of stations that will use the fireworks display for promotional purposes.

With the signed agreement, Clear Channel agrees to pay $25,000 for the fireworks and another $15,000 to hire local bands. The company's stations get the exclusive right to broadcast in city-owned North and South Straub parks, at The Pier and in Vinoy Park during the July 4 event.

Also Thursday, the council, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, approved a controversial condominium project at 190 Fifth Ave. N. Construction on the five-story Fifth Avenue Lofts, with 16 residential units and two commercial spaces, is expected to begin in July. Some area residents opposed the $2.2-million, L-shaped building, saying its style and size didn't fit that of the surrounding neighborhood.

The project, designed by architect Tim Clemmons, will sit at the border of two neighborhoods: North Downtown and North Shore. Clemmons lives in North Downtown and is president of its neighborhood association.

Thursday's discussion seemed to be a struggle between those who want to see the neighborhood around downtown retain its historic charm and those who want downtown to grow and become more of an urban setting.

Residents said a 20-year-old redevelopment plan for the area calls for buildings to be historically compatible in size and style with the surrounding neighborhood but the Lofts does not.

"There are definite guidelines, and the issue is whether they're going to be addressed or not, and the fact that this is economic redevelopment, well, money talks," said Laura Bayman, attorney for two people who live near the proposed lofts.

Clemmons, and his attorney, George Rahdert, pointed out that the five-story plan was well within zoning regulations and was not as tall as other nearby buildings, such as the 15-story Presbyterian Towers and the six-story Townview Apartments.

Rahdert also represents the St. Petersburg Times on First Amendment issues.

Council members overwhelmingly sided with the project.

"I don't see this as the gateway to the Old Northeast," Foster said. "I see this as the gateway to downtown."

Even Virginia Littrell, a longtime historic preservation devotee and former chairman of the city's Historic Preservation Commission, easily approved the building.

"I know you're not going to believe this coming from me, but I do not believe this is a historic preservation consideration," she said. "I don't believe this particular project is in the context with the area, but that said, I think the legalities speak more clearly and I believe the zoning has been met."

In other business, the council cut the number of monthly meetings from four to three.

The move to eliminate the last minimeeting of the month came at the recommendation of City Council member John Bryan, whose motto is "less taxes, less talk, more opportunity."

The council will still hold its subcommittee meetings and review future agendas on the fourth Thursday of each month.

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