Gulfport Candidates Q&A

With Gulfport’s municipal election coming up, the Gabber asked each of the candidates running for the Ward 1 council seat questions provided by residents and editorial staff. Answers have been lightly edited for style and grammar. You can read responses to the introductory questionnaire here, as well as find original filing paperwork for each candidate. 

Gulfport municipal elections are city-wide – residents of all wards may vote for Ward 1 councilmembers. Mail ballots are available by contacting the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office at 727-464-8683. The deadline to request a mail ballot is March 7. The election will take place March 17 and there will be three poling places open in Gulfport on election day: Gulfport City Hall, Gulfport Recreation Center and Gulfport Neighborhood Center. You can find more at mygulfport.us/gulfport-municipal-election-information.

Dan Liedtke – Incumbent, Ward 1

What are your solutions for the vehicle parking issues in Gulfport?

We are truly celebrating a lot of success in the downtown waterfront. Many are thankful for the recent investments in the formalized beachfront parking. This includes the brick paver lot west of the Casino as well as the improved design and boardwalk on the east side of the casino. 

In the next year, we will also be looking at brick paver parking enhancements and landscaping improvements around the dog park to better support businesses on the north end of Beach Boulevard. We will also continue to promote offsite parking and increased utilization of the new trolley for events.  

If the city were to build a parking garage, where should it be located and why?

The city is not planning to build a parking garage. A vast majority of residents have already clearly expressed they do not want a parking garage. If the city were to build a parking garage I am not sure where it should be located because no one is going to appreciate it next to their home. 

Regarding organizations that lease city property, what are your suggestions for making the process more consistent and equitable?

I think it’s excellent to see the city supporting some of the organizations that utilize city property, especially the Gulfport Little League. Each organization that enjoys the use of city property provides its own unique contribution to the community. There are no one-size-fits all.

What two new incentives can the city offer to encourage new business and promote existing businesses in Gulfport?

Why are we asking about providing incentives to grow business when one of the earlier questions was about parking issues? We should be celebrating that success. 

We need to continue the focus on addressing city-wide infrastructure issues before we start spending taxpayer money on business incentives to attract people to an already booming business environment.

What are your suggestions for increasing transparency and accountability with non-profits and charities that do business with the city?

I would like to thank all the people who are members of the local charitable organizations that do business with Gulfport. I feel blessed to live in a city where so many non-profits understand Gulfport’s character and are taking an interest in improving our community.  

When it comes to accountability and transparency, I support the public disclosures required by the IRS that extend beyond basic tax requirements. Non-profits are already required to publish and make available key data about the organization. The organizations doing wonderful things in our community understand the benefits of transparency. Forcing additional requirements on these charitable organizations would only hamper their ability to accomplish their beneficial missions. 

April Thanos – Challenger, Ward 1

What are your solutions for the vehicle parking issues in Gulfport? 

This is an important community issue. We need to consider multiple solutions until we hit the optimal combination based on results and costs.

[We need to] develop an awareness campaign encouraging visitors to use the Rec building parking, Wood Ibis Parking, Marina and the Senior Center Parking and Library lots (only when they are closed).

The GEMS vehicles could be used to loop downtown and peripheral parking during high tourist season, weekends, festivals and other major events. This would need to be highly publicized so locals and visitors could rely on the service. It is imperative that the ride is consistently available with minimal wait time. We also should make sure there are benches for people to be comfortable while waiting.

The city can form a partnership with the GMC [Gulfport Merchants Chamber] and/or businesses for a low-cost or free valet service during special events or especially busy times.

Create a “Bike Gulfport” campaign to increase and attract biking into Gulfport by providing more bike and trike racks or a dedicated safe and secure parking area.

Encourage more two-wheel transportation by partnering with one of the bicycle-share companies like Coast, which operates in St. Petersburg. With the new Osgood Point Trail Connector, it’s easier for St. Pete cyclists to ride their rented bikes into Gulfport. If we had a bike-share kiosk here, Coast cyclists could drop off their bikes after an evening in Gulfport and take an Uber home, an attractive alternative to driving. It could work for Gulfport cyclists as well – rent here, leave in St. Pete.

Meet with interested businesses or the GMC to see if they would entertain a “rewards program” for their employees who don’t park on Beach Boulevard or who use alternate transportation, e.g. bus, bicycle, etc., leaving these spots open for patrons of the businesses. 

Create a seasonal tourist attraction. For example, the use of electric bicycle rickshaws to move people around downtown and the parking areas. This could be run privately or through a collaboration between the city and the merchants.

Re-stripe on-street parking to be perpendicular rather than slanted to add increased spaces. 

Create dedicated spaces for scooters and motorcycles and golf carts so they don’t take space from cars. These could be spaced along Beach Boulevard for easy access.

Put in more handicap spaces to make it easier for those who truly cannot park far away. 

If the city were to build a parking garage, where should it be located and why? 

There is no need for the city to entertain constructing a costly parking garage. The city has several locations in the downtown area, as well as peripheral areas, that are not used to their full potential for parking (see above).We should evaluate current street parking in the downtown areas and assess if reconfiguration of current spaces can potentially add new spaces.

There are two parking lots adjacent to the empty Bank of America building. The city could seek to purchase/lease one or both of the existing lots and make it a free municipal parking lot. 

Regarding organizations that lease city property, what are your suggestions for making the process more consistent and equitable? 

In the November 11, 2019, council meeting the city manager proposed questions to be asked of each non-profit before they are granted a lease. The purpose was to standardize the information from each entity. The council seemed pleased with the questions, but they were not supplied to the public in either the agenda or the minutes. The idea was to try this approach and see how it works.

Some of the non-profits that lease space from the city have as their main goal something that is strictly for the benefit of the city or its residents. This should be taken into account. 

Have one standard lease agreement that is consistent across any/all groups that lease a city property including the length of the lease. I believe three years is a good standard length.

Make sure that costs are standardized.

If the leasing organization improved the property, it should be taken into account.

The city should seek data from other cities to ensure that lease prices represent fair market value pricing and are similar to what they do for similar organizations.

What two new incentives can the city offer to encourage new business and promote existing businesses in Gulfport? 

Establish a meeting with current business and potential new businesses about the problems they encountered opening or moving their businesses. This would allow us to assess potential changes to the cumbersome processes we have in place.

Develop a permit process that is streamlined, transparent and consistent across all existing and new business entities in Gulfport.

Re-train staff in the departments involved to treat the public as customers, recognizing that each application – business and residential – is an improvement to the property and consequently to our city. Partner with the applicant to guide them through the entire process.

Offer an open-door policy with city departments, proactively providing any/all criteria that must be met prior to opening a business; offer opportunities to engage in “checking in” so that a business isn’t surprised with additional unknown mandates that delay opening a business.

The city already engages in several partnerships with Gulfport businesses or groups to promote Gulfport and Gulfport businesses. The city can extend its outreach to trade groups or other small business associations outside our immediate area. Keep spreading the word about the wonderful opportunities in Gulfport 

Create solutions to the parking issue and advertise them. 

What are your suggestions for increasing transparency and accountability with non-profits and charities that do business with the city? 

The city council meeting of August 6, 2019, addressed this issue. There was a proposal to put a council person or a person appointed by the council on each board that rented city property. This proposal was opposed by many members of the community, members of the boards that were affected, and members of council.

The outcome was to have city staff draw up a standard lease form which would have questions for each non-profit. This was accomplished at the November 19, 2019 city council meeting. The goal was to increase transparency with the non-profits leasing space from the city. 

The council will start using this format as leases come up for renewal. If this process is successful, it should increase transparency and accountability. 

If the process is not successful and there are still concerns about this issue, we would need to get more community involvement to discuss what information is needed and find a solution that is fair and equitable to all.

 

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