Controversy about revitalizing the St. Pete Science Center, final vote Thursday

Pinellas County

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – The former Science Center of St. Petersburg is causing controversy. Some say revitalizing the center would be great for the community, others say it could be a burden. The final vote is Thursday.

St. Pete Councilman Robert Blackmon said the former St. Pete Science Center was in its prime 15 years and ago has sat vacant for two years. He said the conversation about bringing it back is causing contention with Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“Scientific learning is more important than ever, [we have had the] worst red tide in a generation, worst pandemic in 100 years. The science center just makes sense,” Blackmon said.

Blackmon spoke out in a city meeting last week saying the project fiscally checks out.

“We can get a $15-million dollar facility for $3.5 million,” Blackmon said.

However, Kriseman questioned that math in the meeting.

“We’ve heard a lot of different numbers, I’ve heard a number as much as $6 million dollars,” Kriseman said.

Kriseman told McLarty Wednesday that he knows the center’s value, however, he said as laid out in his memo’s from December 2020 what he is opposed to is potentially sticking taxpayers with the bill. Something that Blackmon said is not even in the realm of possibility.

“That’s factually incorrect,” Blackmon said, going to say there’s no way that would happen… The only reason the mayor is against this is because he doesn’t want me to get a political win,” Blackmon said.

Blackmon is a Republican running for mayor. The current Democratic Mayor, Mayor Kriseman, supports his opposing candidate.

“Do politics come at all into play here?” McLarty asked Kriseman on Wednesday. “No, they don’t,” Kriseman said.

“Politics should have nothing to do with the Science Center and whether the Science Center comes back to life at this location or any other one. It’s a little disappointing honestly that Mr. Blackmon has brought politics into it,” Kriseman said.

Mayor Kriseman took to Facebook a few days ago and said “Robert Blackmon hasn’t done his homework”, and said “…there is no plan”.

Blackmon responded to that Facebook post and said they do have concrete plans and the support of multiple community agencies, including the Sierra Club.

The council did vote 5-3 to approve the project moving forward. McLarty asked Kriseman what his thoughts were ongoing against the council vote.

“Well, it’s my job. My job is to look out for the taxpayers and that’s what I’m doing here,” Kriseman said.

The big final vote is happening in a St. Pete City meeting Thursday at 1:30 pm. Public comment is allowed so if you feel strongly for or against the Science Center, you can go and speak your mind.

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