It’s a good time to be in St. Petersburg.
Our local and regional economy continue to be the envy of many as we attract more companies with good paying jobs, more residents with better places to live, and more retail and office development for our businesses to grow.
We’ve experienced a cycle unlike anything we could have ever predicted, and the fundamentals are in place for us to see more of the same in 2020.
But just as the tropical weather can fool us very quickly, there are a few issues on our horizon that can alter our momentum and course if we don’t show great care for their outcomes.
Here’s our Chamber list of the 5 key issues that can impact our local economy in 2020 and beyond.
The Future of Pro Sports and Tropicana Field
Major League sports impact communities in direct and indirect ways. There’s no doubt our Rays and Rowdies as local businesses and employers contribute to our regional economy and have influenced our growth the past 21 years.
However, the future of these teams is now at a crossroads. 2019 ended with Mayor Rick Kriseman refusing to allow the Rays to explore the possibility of a split-season model prior to the 2028 season. While met with approval from many sports purists, the refusal brings the negotiations to a standstill.
Will the Rays start looking at a post-2027 option in Tampa Bay?
What would the Rays departure mean for the Rowdies and professional sports in St. Petersburg?
There is an underlying belief that a deal can be made to allow the team to explore a potential split-season model. Can this be done and what role, if any, can the Chamber have in bringing the two groups together?
The standstill also puts the future development of the 86-acre Tropicana Field property in question. Space in our city is limited and the development of the site, with or without a baseball stadium, would provide much needed housing and office space.
Can the city persuade the Rays to approve of any development on the Tropicana Field site prior to the end of Mayor Kriseman’s time in office, let alone before 2028? What impact might this delay have on St. Pete’s upward trajectory?
How do we grow? Development and Affordable Housing
St. Pete is growing. More and more people are moving here and, as was mentioned above, space is extremely limited. With this growth comes an increase in employees seeking housing which drives up costs and puts affordability at risk.
The City’s Administration is proposing a Linkage Fee on development to help fund affordable housing programs. Proponents like the idea that developers will be paying to help those being priced out. Others say that developers will be forced to pass these fees on to the end user making things more expensive for the “missing middle” consumer or be priced out of developing in St. Pete. Most agree that any money raised for affordable housing should be put into a protected fund only for affordable housing projects that cannot be swept into the general fund.
Additionally, some advocates for housing believe that lowering the costs for development through zoning changes and reducing regulations is a more sustainable and resilient solution that will decrease rent and sales prices and help more people than housing programs funded by fees.
Does St. Pete’s popularity make it immune from the economic realities developers face? What solutions are best for our community to increase the supply of housing that is affordable?
Where do we continue to grow? Coastal High Hazard Area (CHHA)
Currently the City’s comprehensive plan does not allow for zoning density increases in the Coastal High Hazard Area (CHHA). This was not a huge problem when that area consisted of mostly protected wetlands or single-family neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the area of St. Petersburg considered to be in the CHHA has doubled to nearly 41% of our city according to new flood maps. If the city kept the current rules in place, areas such as the Innovation District, the Gateway Shopping Center (MLK and 78th Ave N), and many other areas of our city could not be redeveloped to increase density.
A potential plan to change the rules to allow density increases would mandate mitigating design elements or payments towards shelter development on all redevelopment in the CHHA. Proponents support this change to allow our city to grow while others oppose developing in the CHHA period.
Should St. Pete stop development in 40% of our city or should we allow building in the CHHA with strict standards? This issue has major implications on the future of our city.
How do we improve transportation?
While the Central Avenue BRT is set to become the first modern transit service in the area, with construction starting in 2020, and major improvements to our transportation system are underway (mostly on our interstates), or will begin this coming year, the future of transportation in the St. Pete/Clearwater/Tampa area will be decided in 2020.
A solution for how we move our residents, tourists, employees, and trucks around our community in an efficient way must be found. Some questions that will be answered in 2020 include:
Can we expect a deal on commuter ferry service from East Hillsborough to MacDill to be made?
Will the All for Transportation sales tax in Hillsborough County be upheld by the Florida Supreme Court?
How will Pinellas County address funding the Transportation Trust Fund and PSTA?
Will the Federal Transit Administration approve and fund the Central Avenue BRT?
Can the 7 counties in TBARTA work together for regional transportation improvements or will they remain parochial?
Is Tampa Bay a region or just a body of water?
Recently the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce changed their names to “Tampa Bay” without consulting with surrounding communities or regional partners. Some argue this move is a response to the weakness of the “Tampa” brand compared to St. Pete.
This usurping of regional authority was met with severe backlash from City Councils and County Commissions throughout the area. Most people agree the best way to maximize regional success is for the communities to work together to capitalize on our collective strengths.
2020 will be a watershed year for regional cooperation and it is up to the business leaders in St. Pete, Clearwater, Tampa, and surrounding communities to respond positively and work to ensure our economic growth continues.