Last Friday night 20 people with St. Pete for Peace protested outside the Baywalk shopping center, opposing further privatization of sidewalks in downtown St. Pete.
The decision by the St. Petersburg City Council to privatize a portion of the sidewalk near Baywalk has met with resistance from local peace groups who they say they will continue to exercise free speech outside the Baywalk development.
Chris Ernesto with St. Pete for Peace claims that the City of St. Petersburg and Baywalk are forcing people to choose between profit and civil liberties. There are complaints that protesters are causing traffic congestion, but by comparison he says other events cause even more congestion.
The City of St. Petersburg received 90 letters regarding The Baywalk controversy, with a majority opposing the privatization. The decision to privatize has led protesters to seek a referendum, but Ernesto says St. Pete for Peace won’t begin to challenge the decision until the city begins to arrest protesters for being on the sidewalk.
St. Petersburg City Attorney Mark Winn confirmed that safety issues and the impediment of foot traffic were among the reasons for privatizing the North side of Second Avenue. The other sidewalks near Baywalk remain public.
Although the ordinance was effective on October 6th, the sidewalk remains public until the city turns over the sidewalk to Baywalk. In a recent St. Pete Times article BayWalk property manager Thomas McGeachy said he has no intentions of expanding beyond the area around the promenade and the street. Ernesto claims that the protesters also face the danger of losing the rights to assemble on the opposite side of the street.
ACLU attorneys who are defending the protesters cite precedents in which the court held that a private owner of a sidewalk could not stop protesters from using the sidewalk to demonstrate. Dina Formentini has protested with St. Pete for Peace for two years, and said that her constitutional rights have been violated.
More than 70% of the shopping complex is vacant. Formentini thinks that the $700,000 in federal money Baywalk will receive is corporate welfare.
Protester Jimmy Dunson said that our country must be mindful of protecting domestic rights.
Art Gil was handing out leaflets for Team HOPE for the ministry of Cavalry Chapel St. Petersburg, and didn’t agree with the protesters’ message, but supported their freedom of speech.
The radical cheerleaders with St. Pete for Peace will protest consumerism at Baywalk next Friday night at 8:30 PM.