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St. Pete Mayoral Debate: Candidates square off | News

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St. Pete Mayoral Debate: Candidates square off
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- The three main candidates running for mayor of St. Petersburg squared off in a rapid fire live televised debate Tuesday evening.

Each candidate was given between 30 seconds and a minute to answer questions on a variety of hot button issues ranging from crime and homelessness to why the Baywalk project is taking so long to complete.

One of the biggest issues surrounded the future of the St. Petersburg Pier, and whether or not the Lens should be built. All three candidates had differing opinions but seemed to agree a final decision should be left up to the voters.

"I assembled the 8/28 Alliance because I think it's time to really carry this momentum while people are really passionate about this issue, passionate about their waterfront," said Mayor Bill Foster. "We need to make sure we get this right and engage the public and come up with a process for the design and selection of the next great landmark for the city of St. Petersburg."

Candidate Rick Kriseman agreed the public should have input, but also expressed his sense of urgency regarding a pier decision.

"We've got to get this thing built," said Krisemen.  "We can't have a vacant structure on our waterfront, and we can't have empty waterfront, which is the jewel of our community. So we have to get it right! I think as long as people weigh in, we give them that chance, we get it built, and we get it right."

Kathleen Ford says she's been pressing for a public vote for over a year.

"In the past, so many people did weigh in and they were weighing in on the fact that they wanted to see a restaurant out on the Pier," said Ford.  "Well folks, there is no air conditioned restaurant at the Lens. Let me just clear that up for you."

"I think we need to look further at what we do have," she added. "Again, I think the citizens of St. Pete have a valuable waterfront asset and I think they should be able to vote on it."

The future of the Tampa Bay Rays was another hot button issue. Much of the discussion surrounded comments made by the mayor earlier this week saying he'd be willing to allow the Rays management to explore options in Hillsborough, if they met certain conditions.

"I'm very solid on our legal position if our sole objective were to keep the Rays here through 2027. What is the objective after that? I guarantee if we do that there will be no Tampa Bay Rays in 2028. So if our objective is to let a longer term commitment for the region, those are the kinds of discussions I've been having with the Rays organization," said Foster.

Kathleen Ford questioned who would get stuck with the bill for Tropicana Field should the Rays leave St. Pete.

"Understand that the stadium is still not paid off. We have debt until 2025. Understand that the operating costs are significant, so if the Rays do leave, who's paying? And that's the issue that needs to be addressed in any negotiations."

Both of Foster's challengers criticized the mayor for his flip-flopping on a number of key issues.

"Mr. Foster has had as many positions as Ben Zobrist, but hasn't done them as well," joked Kriseman. "But this is an important issue, it is not a game. This is serious and it involves our city, and I have said from the beginning I think there are some things we can do to try to make this team more successful."

Voters will take to the polls for the primary election in three weeks on August 27th. Voters will also have their opportunity to make a decision on how the Pier's future is decided.

Follow 10 News Reporter Beau Zimmer on twitter @Zimm10

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