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Downtown St. Petersburg: Be careful little eyes what you see

The Pinellas Trail provides a scenic entry into the downtown
The Pinellas Trail provides a scenic entry into the downtown
Andrew Verrett

I don't travel to downtown St. Petersburg, Florida as much as I used to, but I'm still there about once every six weeks. It has been a pleasant place to go. For a town with a population of a quarter of a million people, there is no choking smog. A walk through downtown is casual. You can hear birds chirping instead of blaring horns from impatient drivers. The subtropical weather supports year-round plant growth.

Actual painting on a St. Petersburg street corner is nude (Pixelation added for decency)
Photo and photoshop work by Andrew Verrett

The downtown is located next to scenic Tampa Bay. It is the home of the Tampa Bay Rays and the Tampa Bay Rowdies. There are plenty of multi-lane streets that crisscross the area and a lot of metered parking. The downtown is also served by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, a rather efficient, county-wide bus service. For those who bicycle, roller-blade, jog, or walk, the downtown is accessible on the Pinellas Trail, broad sidewalks, and bicycle lanes. There are many places available to tether bicycles.

In addition to professional baseball and soccer, the Grand Prix comes to St. Petersburg once a year. The normally quiet streets are temporarily replaced by the roar of high performance race cars.

Downtown is also home to several museums and the Mahaffey Theater for the Performing Arts.

There is a relaxed feeling downtown. In addition to the modern pavement, there are cobblestone streets still in service. Sidewalk cafes line many of the main roads. Parks, park benches, marinas, palm trees, and fountains are readily spotted. Though the shops in the Pier are closed and automobile traffic is forbidden on the Pier, pedestrians and bicyclists can still make their way to the end to watch pelicans, egrets, and sailboats. Fishing is permitted from the Pier as well.

We used to go to Rays' baseball games when they were at home on the Fourth of July, then walk with the kids from the stadium to a pizza place for dinner, and then go to the Pier to watch fireworks. If the Rays weren't in town, we'd just get to the Pier a little early so we could find a parking spot. Now, I find I may have to re-evaluate fireworks downtown with our grandchildren now that they are old enough to go. Furthermore, I used to tell people that St. Petersburg is a major city with a small town feeling. But, I can't say that anymore. Why? It's not because of crime, it has to do with what I don't want my grandchildren to see.

A couple of days ago, I took a slightly different route through the downtown. It was only a block apart from the way I usually go, but it is along the route we used to take with our children from a Rays game to the Pier. There, to my surprise, on the outside of a restaurant is a renaissance era type of painting of a frontal view of a nude woman. I was stunned. (I have pixeled the photograph with this article.) I could understand it if the painting were on the inside of the establishment, but it is on the outside in plane view of every pedestrian and those passing in cars.

I don't know how long the painting has been there. I checked Google street view for the intersection after I returned home, and sure enough, there was the painting. So, it has been there for more than a few days. (Google, displaying more discretion than the bar owners and the city of St. Petersburg, blurred the image.)

More perplexing to me is that when I did a Google search, I could find no articles about public outrage or even concern about a business advertising with a portrait of a naked woman in public view. Obviously, the paining must not violate any city decency ordinance.

The restaurant/bar is located only a few blocks from a couple of churches. Is it that no one from these churches cares? Or has no one seen it? What about other residents? (I am not a resident of St. Petersburg.) Or is it that complaints were filed to the city, but didn't draw the attention of anything that would be picked up by Google?

The only things I could find about this location were comments about the food, alcohol, music, and service – good and bad – about a health department inspection that forced them to shut down once, and about the cost - "Awesome Tapas but a tad pricey but you get what you paid for good food!" But about the painting? Nothing. A few years ago, this type of promotion would have been unheard of, but times are changing. Christian values are not as important as making money or doing whatever feels good or as the Bible laments in several places that every man was doing what was right in his own eyes.

It's just one painting that (now that I know it exists) can be avoided. But what happens next in St. Petersburg? Typically, when someone pushes the decency envelope, someone else will mimic it and someone else will try to outdo it.

So, parents: when you're with your children, avoid the intersection of Central Avenue and Beach Drive SE, otherwise you may be having an uncomfortable conversation with your children about more than a baseball game, soccer game, Grand Prix race, or Fourth of July fireworks.

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