TAMPA - A big yellow school bus sits adjacent to Voice of Freedom Park in West Tampa, but there are no school children nearby. The bus isn't there for a daytime field trip. It's there as the latest addition to the Occupy Tampa encampment that's been located in the park for months.
"We're converting it into a stage," said Mark Buckley, who bought the bus earlier this week. "We're painting it blue," he said, holding a sketch of the planned remodeling.
Buckley's already installed an air conditioner on a rear side window. All the seats inside have been removed to make room for staging area. The sign in the front window reads "Occupy Roadshow."
For some residents near Main Street in West Tampa, the school bus is the last straw. It's symbolic of the group's growing presence inside the park. From the sidewalk, passersby can clearly see the colored tarps hanging from the trees and the domed tents on the ground.
Mike Vannetta, president of the Old West Tampa Neighborhood Association, presented Tampa City Council with some 300 signatures of people unhappy with Occupy Tampa's location.
"Look at it and decide if you would like to have it in your backyard," Vannetta said. "I think you would understand where I'm coming from," he said.
Council member Frank Reddick agreed. "We can't have that there," Reddick said. "This is bad."
But Reddick's colleague Yvonne Capin disagreed. She's attended meetings with Occupy Tampa and said the group has been cooperative and helpful. "This is a lot of hype," she said, describing the movement to remove the protesters. Capin credited Occupy members with cleaning up garbage in the area.
The group also took credit for a garden planted in a nearby alley.
Capin asked Tampa Police if complaints about public drunkenness, noise, and drug use were legitimate. City officials said most of the complaints they investigated were baseless.
Still, Vannetta said the proof is in the esthetics.
"I don't see any way that they can make it look good," he said. "It's a park. It's not a tent city," Vannetta said.
Occupy Tampa members said the real reason they're under fire is that developers want them out to make way for new homes.
"The developers play a lot of dirty games," said Buckley, who said the same thing happened to Occupy protesters in Miami. The Tampa group erected a large sign near the corner of Main Street and the park entrance reading "hands off West Tampa."
Occupy member Susan Shannon said the group has no intention of leaving.
"We do not intend to accommodate (gentry) who are coming in from outside of the community just to make a profit," Shannon said.
The city council voted to review the legality of whether the school bus can be parked in its current location, and what authority the city has to regulate private parkland. A meeting on the matter is scheduled for August.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Higher heat, humidity and rain chances are moving in. Temperatures are leveling off near 90.