ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – The Science Center of Pinellas County near Tyrone Mall has been around since the 1950s but it’s currently sitting vacant.
Now plans are underway for the water treatment and to restore the building for its original intent of STEM education, to help generations to come.
St. Pete City Councilman Robert Blackmon said in its prime 15 years ago The Science Center was drawing in 22,000 visitors a year, and now he’s pushing to make it happen again.
The property was bought by the city in 2019 with the intent of water treatment and affordable housing.
“It’s not doing the taxpayers any benefit having it sitting vacant,” Blackmon continued, “It makes the most sense to activate it and do good for the community.”
Blackmon took 8 On Your Side behind the scenes of the former gardens.
“It’s got all 50 states in mosaic tile,” he said pointing to the ground. He said inside there’s space for events and a functioning planetarium. “It has all the seats, projector still here with the domed roof,” Blackmon said while standing inside.
They have a plan for the back of the property.
“We’re putting in two 7.5 million gallon tanks, one for reclaimed water and one for reject water,” Blackmon said.
Blackmon said recreating this building elsewhere would likely cost about $5 million dollars, and he said that doesn’t make sense when they have a perfectly good facility here.
“Right now more than ever we have a need for STEM education. There’s sea level rise, climate change, erosion,” Blackmon continued, “We need a skilled workforce to recruit jobs and boost our economy.”
Luis Manual is excited, he has lived nearby The Science Center for 40 years and said his son used to love going there.
“I think it’s a good idea [to restore it for its original use], better than the housing,” Manual said.
State Senator Darryl Rouson represents the 19th district which includes parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Tampa. He said he supports the revitalization of the center to its original use to enhance STEM education in the community.
“It’s not that this is more important [than affordable housing], it’s that we [already] have the facility,” Rouson adding, “My brother started at the Science Center as a young kid and it sparked and motivated him to become a scientist, Mechanical Engineer,” said Senator Rouson.
Blackmon said he has already spoken with many county commissioners, neighborhood associations, and private organizations who are ready to support the revitalization plan and he hopes to hear from residents showing their support.
A spokesman for the City of St. Petersburg, Benjamin Kirby, said they look forward to learning more from an official proposal.
“Mayor Rick Kriseman has met with the State Senator and Councilmember about this idea. While it is likely that at least some portion of the site will be utilized to accommodate wastewater needs, we do not yet have a final understanding of our needs related to this site,” Kirby said.
Blackmon said he expects to have the official proposal to the city by mid-October and if all goes as planned, he hopes to have the Science Center up and running in 2021.