Activists Discuss Upcoming Baywalk Decision
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09/30/09 Kate Bradshaw
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

The occupancy of the once-thriving complex is now at a dismal thirty percent. Some believe the only way to save it is to allow the owners of Baywalk to take over the sidewalk that skirts the main entrance; a site known for political demonstrations. Others, like NAACP president Ray Tampa, say the move would be blatantly unconstitutional and deliver a clear message about where the city’s true intentions lie.

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A coalition of groups that include the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, St. Pete For Peace and the NAACP held a press conference Wednesday to outline their case against a city ordinance that would allow the city to privatize the sidewalk. The city hopes this will revive the shopping center, but others, like Chris Ernesto of St. Pete for Peace, believe that race is a key motivator, given that young minorities often congregate in the area.

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Adding to the race aspect of the issue is that CW Capital Asset Management, the Wall Street firm that now owns the property, apparently works behalf of Wells Fargo, one of the key dispensers of predatory subprime loans that allegedly targeted minorities. Uhuru’s Chimurenga Waller cited lawsuits against the bank alleging discriminatory lending practices and questioned the city’s stated stance on race.

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The city is set to chip in 700 thousand dollars in Federal Stimulus money for security and physical improvements on the property, which opponents believe is tantamount to a bailout. Kitty Riley of the African People’s Solidarity Movement contrasted this number with statistics concerning St. Pete’s African American population.

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Reverend Bruce Wright of Refuge Ministries expressed worry over the move’s impact on the city’s homeless.

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The ordinance’s potential impacts on free speech are a concern for everyone, activists say. NAACP Vice President says that when it comes to free speech, the ordinance may have implications beyond the issue at hand.

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Proponents cite safety as the primary reason for their support of the ordinance. A no-protest zone, they say, would give those attending the complex’s cinema, restaurants and shops a clear path to the facility. Among the ordinance’s vocal opponents are mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford and City Councilmember Wengay Newton. The St. Pete Times reports that Newton, who plans on voting against the sidewalk vacation, said that Mayor Rick Baker is doing all he can to get it passed. Thursday’s proceedings begin at 8:30 a.m. in St. Pete City council chambers. WMNF attempted to reach St. Petersburg City Council member Carl Nurse, a supporter of privatizing the sidewalk, but he did not return our call by airtime.

From Downtown St. Pete, for WMNF News, I’m Kate Bradshaw

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