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Opposition Against Echelman Sculpture Grows Ahead Of St. Pete City Council Vote

Courtesy of The City of St. Petersburg
The mesh sculpture by renowned artist Janet Echelman is expected to cost around $3 million with $1.3 million of public funding.

A stretch of green space along downtown St. Petersburg's waterfront is slated to get a large mesh sculpture, but opposition is growing ahead of a Thursday city council vote.

The $3 million neon sculpture by renowned artist Janet Echelman is planned for Spa Beach as part of the $76 million overhaul of the St. Petersburg Pier District. The sculpture, which resembles an outstretched fishing net, could be up to 320 feet long. It's one of the few remaining pier projects not yet approved by the city council.

Resident Velva Lee Heraty created the Facebook group Save Spa Beach Park to oppose the sculpture. The group has reached 400 members in less than a week. Heraty says the main concern is that in order to approve the sculpture the park's official designation would have to be changed from passive to active - allowing for more development.

"Every inch of space downtown is being driven by development and we don't believe this is going to be any exception," Heraty said. "This is the toe in the door. We're not just protecting Spa Beach Park, we're protecting all the passive parks."

The ordinance would clarify the definition of a "passive" park to allow for shade structures, playground equipment and public art. Spa Beach does not have any of those features. The current plans for Spa Beach also include a kayak and canoe rentals and a large vessel dock.

In the Save Spa Beach Park group, residents have raised concerns about whether or not the sculpture could withstand hurricane-force winds, as well as how it would affect bird migration patterns and the parks' scenic views.

"The glitter, the light poles will be towering over our waterfront," Heraty said. "They'll be visible 24/7."

About $1.3 million of the overall price tag for the sculpture will come from public funding if its approved. The St. Petersburg City Council was expected to take up the ordinance on July 12, but removed it from the agenda. 

Roberto Roldan is a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in mass communications and a minor in international studies.
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