The Pier is completed, and our community is discovering its many features. It has been a long time coming and many are pleased with what they see! We are hopeful this project will achieve the intended goals of activating the entire Pier area as an inviting attraction for residents and visitors alike.
The COVID-19 lock down has been stressful. However, out of hardship can come opportunity! In my visits to the waterfront parks these past months, it is apparent that our community has discovered--or rediscovered--the value of these beautiful open spaces. I am delighted at the numbers of people enjoying our parks, whether walking, biking, exercising, sitting and chatting, contemplating, picnicking, sunbathing, swinging in hammocks, engaging in sports, using the dog park, or just enjoying views of Tampa Bay. The pandemic has been a catalyst for many to get out of their confines and enjoy the benefits of nature and fresh air in our waterfront parks! Our own family got together recently at Flora Wylie Park. We each brought our folding chairs and our snacks, arranged our seating in a large circle and had a wonderful afternoon of fun and laughter. We put a big blanket in the middle of the circle where the youngest could play. There were many other groups in the park that day. We were impressed that everyone spaced themselves a distance from other groups so that we were all comfortable with room to spare.
How fortunate we are to have this open green space, recreation, and beauty right in our front yard! We continue to be grateful to our founders for their long-range vision and the commitment that benefits us still today. It is the mission of the Waterfront Parks Foundation to continue to preserve and maintain this great treasure.
More good news; everyone is enjoying the beautiful new flower beds! We will be changing the flowers seasonally as well as adding new flower beds. The funds for these flowers are provided by The Majeed Foundation and we are so very grateful for their generosity and personal commitment to making our Waterfront Parks more beautiful.
The Waterfront Parks Foundation has committees to help us Preserve, Protect and Promote the park system. They include Lighting, Benches, Signage, Floral Projects, Land Use & Zoning, Swings, and Marketing. While the pandemic has limited physical meetings, the committees have worked remotely on issues to ensure our parks are a special experience for all to enjoy long into the future. I gratefully thank the participants on these committees for their dedication to our parks.
Phil Graham, Jr., President
Waterfront Parks Foundation
The Fruits of Our Visionary Pioneers
Perhaps nothing better reflects the vision and optimism of St. Petersburg’s founders than this 108-year-old newspaper article, which appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on December 14, 1912. According to historian and WPF member, Will Michaels, it was probably written by Times Editor, William L. Straub, who was part-owner and editor of the St. Petersburg Times from 1901 until his death in 1939.
The text of the original article, pictured here, has been transcribed for readers, below. Note that Mayor Abe Pheil also was the passenger on the World’s First Airline which flew from St. Pete to Tampa beginning New Year’s Day 1914. Pheil’s legacy is most well-known for this historic flight. But he also was a strong supporter of the Downtown Waterfront Parks. (Pheil also was responsible for bringing manufactured gas to St. Petersburg in 1913 as a city-owned utility, giving home cooks a much-desired alternative to cooking over the fireplace!)
When, on December 12, 1912, the city council of the Pheil administration, by an [sic] unanimous vote on a formal resolution, officially approved the plan submitted by the Board of Trade for the public recreation buildings and park on the waterfront, the waterfront “dream” plan that first came to The Times and other waterfront boosters a decade ago became an actual fact, complete in all respects.
A red letter date in St. Petersburg’s history, and the most important and memorable action of this administration, no matter what other praiseworthy work may mark the balance of its term.
In the beginning, when every foot of St. Petersburg’s waterfront was under private ownership, and apparently doomed to be lost to the public, as waterfronts were and are in almost all other waterside cities, and before it was feasible to even suggest all of it, the half-dozen original waterfront boosters in their first meeting agreed upon and have ever since unceasingly worked for this general plan:
First. All the waterfront to be owned by the city for the public’s use
Second. All commercialism to be confined to some one locality, and all the rest to be beautified.
Third. A separate harbor for pleasure boats.
Fourth. A recreation pier and park.
Slowly, one by one, a part at a time, these various features were brought forward, and pushed through. The last became a fact Thursday night, and the whole plan is now complete. The details of actual construction are to follow, but with the plans definitely secure the work is certain.
Making the Waterfront Parks a More Beautiful Place for All
There are a number of supporters in our community who help our organization with their time, talent and treasure. One life-long St. Petersburg resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, loves and enjoys our unique waterfront very much and has supported it quite generously over the years. To this donor and all our terrific supporters, we say Thank You! You make our waterfront parks a special destination in St Pete!
Over the past two years, one of the most ardent supporters of the work of the Waterfront Parks Foundation (WPF) has come from the Majeed Foundation. The Majeed Foundation has played a major role in the enhancement of our waterfront park system. In addition to sponsoring WPF’s Annual Champaign Shuffle, the Majeed Foundation has funded the beautiful floral plantings that now grace Flora Wylie Park, Straub Park’s gateway at 4th Avenue NE and Beach Drive, and in locations near the tennis and volleyball courts in North Shore Park. What a beautiful and robust difference the lively, colorful flowers have made to our Waterfront Parks!
The latest floral plantings, which are updated at least twice per year, can be seen in these photos but you must take a trip downtown to experience the sheer delight of it for yourselves.
The Majeed Foundation has also generously agreed to underwrite the creation of a prototype park swing, which will be installed along the Flora Wylie waterfront trail, for a most relaxing way to enjoy the glorious view of Tampa Bay. If the swing is as well-received as the WPF expects, the Majeed Foundation is interested in helping expand this project, so that more visitors will have an opportunity to take in the sights from the leisurely comfort of an old-fashioned swing.
The members of the Waterfront Parks Foundation are most grateful for the support of this amazing foundation. The Majeed Foundation philosophy is best described on their website (https://www.majeedfoundation.org/):
“Here at Majeed Foundation, we are driven by a single goal; to do our part in making the world a better place for all. We strive to build productive relationships and make a positive impact with all of our pursuits.”
The world and our own waterfront parks are certainly a better place thanks to the vision and gracious generosity of the Majeed Foundation!
Meet Our Board Members—Robert L. Ulrich
For WPF Board Member and former St Petersburg Mayor Bob Ulrich, his service to the Waterfront Parks Foundation is simply an extension of his lifelong history of service to our community. “Our Urban Waterfront was a focal point during our (the City’s) administration from 1987 to 1991 when we adopted three goals, the second of which was to: “preserve our waterfront and permeable open space.” At that time, Mayor Ulrich chaired all Council meetings. “The only time I relinquished the chair was to make a plea before my fellow councilmen and woman, to reject a permit for a building addition to a museum on our urban waterfront. Council passed the resolution anyway, and significant incursions to our former pristine waterfront continue.”
Mayor Ulrich is a Tampa Bay native and graduate of St. Petersburg High School. After earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Duke University, where he honed his leadership skills as ROTC Group Commander and President of the Arnold Air Society, he served as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. His introduction to the Japanese people and culture began while he was stationed in Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan in the late 1950s.
Bob and his wife, Barbara, are the proud parents of four children: Lisa, Kurt, Trent and Tricia (all St. Pete residents), eight grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.
Following his military service, Bob returned to St. Petersburg and entered Stetson University College of Law, where he earned his J.D. in 1963. He began his legal career as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, and then associated as a partner for two local law firms and as an “of counsel” associate for a third before opening his own practice in 1996, where he continues to practice. With three associates, he organized the Bank of Florida in 1974 where he later served as its Chairman.
St. Petersburg has long benefited from Bob’s commitment to public service. He chaired the St. Petersburg Arts Commission in the mid-1970s. From 1987 to 1991, Bob served two terms as Mayor of St. Petersburg, during which time he made official visits to the Netherlands and Spain as a member of the Tampa Bay Super Task Force. During those years, Governor Bob Martinez appointed Mayor Ulrich to the Florida Blue Belt Commission, and he was also a member of the Florida League of Cities. Bob, along with Mayor Sandy Friedman of Tampa, created a committee of Florida Mayors from its six largest cities to promote the specific interests of Florida’s largest municipalities, including St. Pete. During his tenure, Mayor Ulrich stood at the forefront of the City’s implementation of a quarter-billion dollar economic development plan which included annexation of 1100 acres in north St. Petersburg, a $26,000,000 renovation of the Bayfront Center and garage construction (arena and theater of performing arts); a $14,000,000 redevelopment of our municipal pier and the unglamorous, but vital, paving of the last 37 miles of the City’s unpaved streets. That administration also built the $100,000,000, 45,000 seat covered stadium now known as the “Trop”; planned and implemented a six-block $100,000,000 downtown redevelopment project known as Bay Plaza; made concerted efforts to acquire a major league baseball franchise; actively sought the acquisition of a professional hockey franchise; explored the method and feasibility of acquiring a professional basketball franchise with the Charlotte Hornets; filed the application in Kansas City to host the NCAA Basketball finals at the Trop; spurred the $95,000,000 Vinoy resort hotel and golf course redevelopment and the $19,000,000 redevelopment of the Hilton hotel.
Bob notes that these ambitious plans were costly to the ad valorem tax payers as our ad valorem tax rate soared to the 9 mill limit and many of our local citizens did not see these efforts in a positive way. It remains a credit to our tax payers that such plans were ultimately accepted and most of its goals achieved although a number of them subsequent to his administration (e.g. Mayor Dave Fischer’s bringing our major league baseball franchise to the Trop; the north core development of the Bay Plaza Project by our local Ambassador, Mel Sembler; and Mayor Dave’s presiding over the NCAA basketball finals at the Trop, not to mention his planting some 10,000 trees in our city on his watch).
Bob also fostered increased relations with St. Petersburg’s Sister City, Takamatsu, Japan and nurtured business opportunities between St. Petersburg and Japan.
Bob’s involvement goes far beyond his years as St. Petersburg’s mayor. A partial list of his efforts include serving as chair of St. Petersburg Progress, Inc, St. Petersburg Arts Resource Commission, and the St. Petersburg Area Port Authority. He served as Trustee of the YWCA, the YMCA, Florida Southern College for a decade and continues the role of Trustee at the Salvador Dalí Museum. He served as President and Chair of the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony (now the Florida Orchestra). He served on the board of Visiting Nurses and Homemaker’s Association, and was a long standing member of the Florida Suncoasters, Inc., where he served on its Executive Committee. Bob spearheaded and implemented a business assistance program for the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce’s economic development effort which was later adopted by Pinellas County. He also represented the Dalí Museum in opening the Nippon TV’s exhibit in Fukuoka, Japan. And he has been a member of the Waterfront Parks Foundation since its inception in 2012.
“My reason for joining the WPF was to become a member of concerned citizens who seek to preserve our waterfront from any significant vertical and horizontal development that doesn’t fall within the definition of ‘green,’” Bob remarks. “My intent is to be a continuing protagonist for this position.”
A Salute to our Board of Trustees
It has been eight years since the inception of the Downtown Waterfront Parks Foundation (WPF). The organization has worked diligently over this period to "Preserve, Protect, and Promote" St. Petersburg’s amazing waterfront parks. Our success as an organization has been made possible through the generosity of our supporters and the unwavering commitment to the Foundation’s Mission by our Board of Trustees. I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the WPF Board members for the time, talent and treasure they have each afforded to the community through their service to the Foundation.
The Waterfront Parks Foundation began in 2012 with two boards: the Board of Trustees and an Advisory Board. The Board of Trustees was the governing Board that guided policy for the organization and was comprised of men and women passionate about the preservation and protection of the privately-funded gift of the waterfront parks, by our City founders, for the benefit of all of St. Petersburg. The Trustee Board was made up of myself, as President; Charles Osterholt, Secretary; Tami Simms, Treasurer; and Board members Kent Lydecker, Ph.D., Robert Lovejoy, Joan Jaicks, Peter Betzer, Ph.D., Doug Fischer, Ed Montanari, Will Michaels, Ph.D., Don Howe and Marty Wallace. Joel Giles, Esq. provided pro bono legal services for the WPF formation. Later Board members were Mike Cheezem, John Bowman, Helen Levine, Ph.D., David Feaster, Velva Lee Heraty, Karen Brown Dunlap, Ph.D. and Jesse Perez. The first Advisory Board was made up of like-minded community stakeholders and leaders that included the Foundation officers, and members Robert Carter, Tim Clemmons, Philip Graham IV, Mack Hicks, PhD., Sherry McBee, Ed Montanari, Peter Belmont, Esq. and Matt Shapiro. In 2016 we joined the two boards into one Board of Trustees. The current Board is comprised of officers Phil Graham, Charles Osterholt, Tami Simms and Logan DeVicente, Vice President, who make up the Executive Committee; and members Peter Betzer, Ph.D.; Robert Carter; Colleen Crutchfield; Bill Dahl; JP Fatseas; Doug Fisher; David Fischer; Harvey Ford, Esq.; Philip Graham IV; Patti Helton, Ph.D.; Mack Hicks, Ph.D.; Don Howe; Joan Jaicks; W. Richard Johnston; Will Michaels, Ph.D.; Sally Poynter; Ross Preville; and Robert Ulrich, Esq. Mike Jefferis, Parks & Recreation Administrator and Councilman Ed Montanari are Ex-Officio members and Therese Johnson is our Executive Administrator.
These dedicated volunteers represent the BEST of St. Petersburg and provide leadership in other areas of our community as well. We are most fortunate to have these individuals guiding the policy and performance of our organization. I am grateful for their contributions toward the preservation, protection and promotion of our amazing Downtown Waterfront Parks! Thank you, Board Members, Past and Present!
Phil Graham, Jr.
Waterfront Parks Foundation
Meet Our Board Members—Peter R. Betzer, PhD
Board Member Peter Betzer has served on the Waterfront Parks Foundation since its inception, and he brings a valuable wealth of knowledge and experience to the board. Peter and his wife, Susan Beers Betzer, MD, moved to St. Petersburg in 1971, soon after he earned his PhD in chemical oceanography from the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography. He joined the faculty of the University of South Florida’s Department of Marine Science, where he served until retiring in 2008. During his tenure there, Dr. Betzer served as Founding Dean and Professor of USF’S College of Marine Science. “It was exciting to play a key part in converting an industrial backwater into the largest marine research complex (www.spoceanteam.org) in the southeastern United States,” he remarks. “I am especially proud of the donations ($10 million) I solicited that endowed 18 student fellowships during the 25 years I led (Department Chair/Dean) the College of Marine Science.”
The author of over 60 scientific publications in journals and books, Dr. Betzer was a co-recipient of a Distinguished Authorship Award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 1985. From 1986-89 and again from 1995-99, he was appointed to the Ocean Sciences Advisory Panel for The National Science Foundation.
After retiring from USF, Peter was appointed CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, a group that has been pivotal to the emergence of St. Petersburg, Florida as an internationally prominent center for marine research. After retiring from the Partnership in 2017, he was appointed to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Sea Grant Advisory Board which oversees Sea Grant Programs in 33 university systems.
In addition to Peter’s illustrious career in oceanography, he also immersed himself—quite literally—in the waters at North Shore Aquatics Center, where he joined the St. Petersburg Master’s team in 1973 and over the next 47 years, swam over 25,000 miles with the group! While competing in the 2002 World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand, his time for the 100-meter breaststroke was the fastest recorded for all U.S. male swimmers in the 60–64-year-old age group. Of this honor, Peter remarks, “I was delighted to become an All American swimmer, something I could have never imagined during my college career.”
He has also made time for extensive public service, donating his energies to the Pier Aquarium, Bayfront Medical Center, Canterbury School of Florida, Ocean Optics, serving as Coach of St. Petersburg High School Swim Team, the Lawrence University Board of Trustees, as a member of the International Relations Committee for the City of St. Petersburg, the Florida Orchestra, the Palladium Chamber Players, and as a member of the Sea Grant Advisory Board.
Peter and Susan raised two daughters in St. Petersburg, Sarah and Katherine, both of whom now live out-of-state. The Betzers enjoy living across the street from Crescent Lake Park in St. Pete.
Of his service to the WPF, Peter says, “It is immensely satisfying to be part of the Downtown Waterfront Parks Foundation, a group that is working not only to preserve but to enhance some of St. Petersburg’s most beautiful assets. I hope that my active collaboration with the members of the Downtown Waterfront Parks Foundation, with local business leaders and with the city, will help maintain and improve our waterfront parks so they remain a destination for residents and visitors alike.”
Waterfront Parks In The News
The recent flower bed plantings that took place earlier this month at North Straub and Flora Wiley Parks that were made possible by a generous donation from the Majeed Foundation got us some good coverage by the Tampa Bay Times.