A History of Waterfront Parks in St. Petersburg.

02/11/10 Joshua Lee Holton
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For 100 years, St. Petersburg has been known for its downtown public parks along the water’s edge. The Waterfront Centennial Committee is commemorating the occasion by honoring the civic leaders who made this possible. Last night was the first part of a series by the Florida Humanities Council called “Perspectives on the Parks.” A few dozen people went to the discussion at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

St. Petersburg history buffs took a step back in time last night, as actors portrayed local railroad pioneer Peter Demens and founder of the St. Petersburg Audubon Society Katherine Bell Tippetts. The performance harkened back to a time when commercial interests were still competing with public space in St. Petersburg, before the city was known for its public parks. Following the act was a panel discussion with former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, and past president of St. Pete Preservation Will Michaels. Peter Belmont is vice President of St. Pete Preservation, and helped organize the panel discussion.

Bruce Stevenson has written a book called Visions of Eden, and tells how St. Pete parks were inspired by the French Riviera and the Chicago World’s Fair.

The Olmsteads restored the Charles River, a process which Stephenson compared to modern day Everglades restoration efforts.

And Stephenson said St. Petersburg’s parks have inspired waterfront improvement statewide.

Rachel Calderon is a member of the Historic Preservation Society, and a self described snowbird. She enjoyed learning about the park history.

The proposal of a new baseball stadium on the waterfront is just one of many ongoing waterfront parks concerns. There are three more events scheduled for the Parks series. The next one is in the beginning of April, and will recall how segregation affected waterfront park access in recent times. For more information about the Waterfront Parks centennial celebration, go to stpeteparks100.org.

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