Should changes be made to I-175 and/or I-375? Should they be brought to grade and transitioned to boulevards? Should they be brought below grade and capped (built over) to help bridge the gap between South St. Pete and Downtown?
Just as important as infrastructure and housing, we must make sure that St. Pete grows responsibly. My plan for St. Pete’s future is based on smart growth principles that proactively address future problems as part of the development process. As Mayor I will fulfill the promises made on the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site and create a vibrant, welcoming area that complements, supports, and enhances surrounding neighborhoods. Part of that discussion will include potential changes / demolition of I-175 and/or I-375. If the concerns presented by local hospitals regarding emergency transport impacts, and the flow of traffic into downtown venues is addressed, then I am open to further study of the plan. But let’s be clear, the mere reconnection of the Campbell Park neighborhood, and the neighborhoods south of the Trop is not the sole goal. In fact the greater goal, as I’ve stated on several occasions, is the support and rebuilding of the community that was dislocated in the first place. It’s not simply a matter of rebuilding the roads, but rebuilding the destination, i.e. the community. The physical community that was located at the Gas Plant is now located in neighborhoods south and west of the Trop. As a product of that community, I know from experience that the economic and societal benefits of that supportive community environment, particularly for our young people, is invaluable. That is why a robust Community Benefits Agreement is a key element of the Trop redevelopment, regardless of the decision on the I175 and I375. Rebuilding that supportive community should be our priority, and the benefits will be substantial.
How does our community connect St. Petersburg and the Pinellas Beaches to the Brightline termination station in Tampa by 2024?
We connect by building off of the success of the PSTA SunRunner Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project slated to open in 2022. We worked hard to land the first ever BRT project in Tampa Bay’s history. This gives us an anchor and framework to build out and connect over the new Howard Frankland bridge and into Tampa – be it with a rubber tire or light rail solution. In my years as PSTA chair, and as a member of the Pinellas MPO, Forward Pinellas and TBARTA, I’ve led the effort to expand bus on shoulder and managed lanes to downtown St. Petersburg – the original proposals stopped in the Gateway area. I also led the push for FDOT to invest in the infrastructure on the new Howard Frankland to support light rail – a $25 million investment. That has occurred, and we have the framework for connecting to the Brightline terminus in Tampa. The connected Tampa Bay-Orlando mega-region has a population exceeding 6 million and will be an economic and political powerhouse when it is connected with congestion-proof, high-speed transit. With construction from Orlando to Tampa slated to being in the second quarter of 2025 (https://tinyurl.com/brighltlinetampa), we need to work as a region and partner with FDOT to find a feasible transit solution to cross the new Howard Frankland when it opens. I was honored to join Seminole County Commissioner Bob Dallari and other regional leaders to discuss the potential of the Central Florida megaregion during my Commission Chairmanship in 2018. Our combined economic potential as a mega-region is extraordinary.
Do you support the plan to lease our City Marina to a developer to operate and make improvements instead of keeping the marina under city management and make the repairs ourselves?
The St. Petersburg Municipal Marina has been publicly owned and operated since it was constructed in the 1970s. I have spoken with both the Kriseman administration and concerned stakeholders (opponents) on this issue. The administration cites the expected cost savings of some $30 million, that can be used for other infrastructure purposes, and the fact that other assets, like the Pier, are also handled by management agreements. The opponents cite the loss of local control, potential outsourcing of jobs and a “punitive” liquidated damages fee of $37 million if the measure fails the required referendum for a long-term waterfront lease. I discussed this with the administration, who pointed out that the city would have the $30 million in infrastructure in place at that point, which changes my perspective somewhat. The final question that I’d review is the actual experience of the selected vendor with large salt-water marinas. Given the questions on this project from a diverse group of stakeholders, including council members, I would pause for further review of the project and ensure alignment with our strategic and financial priorities, and our charter requirements vis-a-vis a referendum.
What specific impact have you already made in St. Pete toward equitable economic development?
My vision for service and leadership as Mayor is to improve upon the progress that we see in St. Petersburg, with an eye towards inclusion and equity. I have a record of progress and collaboration that I will build upon as Mayor. In my first year as Commission Chair, I led the creation of the countywide Housing Trust Fund and Land Assembly Funds – which have been funded with more than $100 million dollars, and has aided the development of more than 4,000 units of affordable and workforce housing, many in St. Petersburg. I led the effort to create the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) to provide over $100 million over 30 years to reduce generational poverty through education, job training, affordable housing, etc and small business support. I strongly support the extension of the downtown St. Pete CRAs, which supported the Mahaffey Theatre and Pier projects, and the county’s $20 million investment in the new St. Petersburg Police Station. I also led the expansion of the county Small Business Enterprise Program that has expanded access to our small businesses and government contracts. In addition, my Opportunity Agenda will create more economic opportunities for all St. Pete citizens by focusing on diversity and inclusion to procure city contracts and services. I will also focus on linking youth with opportunities, support and access to technology and safe learning spaces, by transforming our community centers into Centers for Empowerment and Innovation, utilizing partnerships, existing facilities, CRA and other funding sources.
How should the city balance historic designation with property rights?
Specifically, in St. Pete with the Tropicana Field site, equity demands that the redevelopment helps rebuild the community and culture that the dislocation of the Gas Plant neighborhood severely impacted in the pursuit of baseball. Balance is the key word, and to maintain that balance I will work to keep what made St. Pete special without overstepping private property rights, with form-based new construction that matches the character of the neighborhood. A potential path to that balance would include homeowner assistance that would offset repair and upkeep while preventing code enforcement issues.
What are your priorities for both sustainability AND resiliency (taken separately) for the City? What are 2 examples that you see as the City’s best opportunities to address climate change impacts?
Our City is no stranger to the challenges facing our infrastructure, particularly our wastewater and sewer systems. 1st Opportunity: We need to continue the implementation of the Integrated Water Resources Master Plan (IWRMP), and the $2.3 billion investment in water, wastewater, reclaimed and stormwater infrastructure that it represents. We must also be diligent in the implementation of the Integrated Sustainability Action Plan (ISAP). These are well constructed roadmaps to updating our outdated infrastructure and building community resiliency. Mayor Kriseman and his team deserve recognition for taking the much needed steps to develop and implement this plan. We now must focus on educating the public, acting on the recommendations within these vulnerability studies, and implementing our plan with priority and focus. 2nd Opportunity: We need to implement a strategic and equitable plan for smart growth in our city, including the CHHA and SLR vulnerability zones. We need to embody a suite of smart growth principles that embody economic, capital and social resilience. Like the Norfolk model, we must determine where growth is desired, where it will be allowed with supportive infrastructure, mitigation and emergency planning, and finally, where growth and density will be discouraged. These will be difficult discussions, but like the pandemic, public safety and public health issues, we must be guided by straightforward dialogue, facts and data.