FOCUS St. Pete – 2019 Recap

Posted On 06/24/2019 by St. Pete Chamber

The Chamber has wrapped up another FOCUS St. Pete program, that ran over the course of Thursday, June 20th – Friday, June 21st. As a new resident, potential newcomer, or curious local, FOCUS St. Pete serves as a community-orientation program that allows attendees the opportunity to become further acquainted with the ins and outs of St. Pete in a short duration of time. Over the brief, 13 -hour period, attendees are able to network, meet community leaders, and discuss various topics that provide a synopsis of the St. Pete narrative. Here’s a look at what happened this time around:

St. Pete’s History & Healthcare

The program opened on Thursday evening at Bilmar Beach Resort, with conversations on St. Pete’s history and healthcare. Raymond Hinst, family generation owner of Haslem’s Bookstore, along with community member, Mary Johnson, led the lesson on St. Pete history. Since its discovery in 1875, St. Pete has had an incessant reputation for its water-surrounded landscape and open air, that has since served as the most enticing features for visitors as well as incoming residents. With the Orange Belt Railway constructed in 1888 by Russian aristocrat, Peter Demons, St. Petersburg would gain its first railway with access to the city, and finds its name based on Demons’ birthplace in St. Petersburg, Russia. Together, Hinst and Johnson discussed historical land use and construction, real estate construction, black settlement and segregation, the infamous Green Benches, and festivities such as Festival of States (high school band competition) and Shuffleboard – in which the ‘Burg codified the official rules and regulations for.

Scott Smith of St. Anthony’s Hospital provided context on local healthcare, briefing the audience on current hospital systems, innovation, and emerging trends that are present in healthcare through the Tampa Bay and Pinellas County region. Smith also acknowledged that all St. Petersburg hospitals need one another, for provoking healthy competition as well as sharing the load of patients. Technology, economic impact, and innovation all serve as primary factors in healthcare.

Local Government

The second phase of FOCUS St. Pete started Friday morning at St. Petersburg College – Midtown Campus. Following breakfast, community leaders including Commissioner Ken Welch (Pinellas County Commission) Councilmember Charlie Gerdes (St. Petersburg City Council), and Kimberly Jackson, Esq. (St. Petersburg College Chair, Social & Behavioral Sciences), were introduced to discuss local government. Areas of discussion included affordable housing, economic development, education, and the upcoming transition from Vision 2020 to Vision 2050 – each topic examined with references to both historical analysis as well as measures moving forward. As we quickly approach the year 2020, the City of St. Petersburg is working to identify the next comprehensive plan, Vision 2050.

Sustainability/Coastal Environment

Rachel Arndt of Tampa Bay Watch kicked off the sustainability conversation, introducing the organization, a local nonprofit that is dedicated to the protection and restoration of the Tampa Bay estuary. With thousands of volunteers throughout the year, Tampa Bay Watch performs activities such as salt marsh plantings, storm drain markings, oyster bar creation, and coastal cleanups. Tampa Bay Watch provides education and active opportunities for individuals of all ages, including summer camps, field trips, and the soon-to-be Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center that will be located at the new St. Pete Pier to provide further educational opportunities.

Sharon Wright, Sustainability Director for the City of St. Petersburg, offered further insight in sustainability efforts. The Office of Sustainability and Resiliency (OSR) was established in 2015, under Mayor Kriseman’s Executive Order to deliver progressive, sustainable policies and programs that address the city’s environmental, economic, and social challenges. OSR has followed with progressive maneuvers, joining hundreds of other cities, with commitment toward addressing climate change through greenhouse gas emissions reductions, plastic reduction ordinances, and efficient water restoration practices, to name a few.


Local leaders in Pinellas County education joined the moderated panel discussion including Kate Bauer-Jones of Thrive by Five Pinellas, Kevin Hendrick of Pinellas County Schools, Sri Sundaram of USF St. Petersburg, and Dr. Tashika Griffith of St. Peterburg College. Panelists had the opportunity to introduce each of their education organizations and their contributions to the community. Though from separate organizations with diverse areas of focus – each panelist expressed their organizational efforts to further education in Pinellas County and provide job readiness. Dr. Griffith noted that a recent educational convening at St. Petersburg College’s downtown campus, revealed that more job seekers are seeking individuals competent in soft skills, with Bauer-Jones emphasizing that experiential learning is on the rise. With a varying age group focus in their respective educational fields, the panelists represented the collaborative nature of education efforts, from preschool ages to college.

Arts & Culture

As a thriving industry for St. Petersburg, the topics of arts and culture in St. Petersburg were presented by John Collins of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, Stephanie Gularte of American Stage, and Lisa Ferrer of Imagine Museum. The panelists collectively agreed that arts and culture has come to act as an “economic engine” for the St. Petersburg community as a whole, most especially for the local entrepreneurs that make up the industry. Panelists also discussed the productive impact that technology has made in the industry between virtual reality viewings and classes, casting calls for performers, general process improvement, and social media. Not only has St. Pete taken on the moniker of “Glass Coast,” amongst the glass bowing community, but SHINE Mural Festival has also “presented St. Pete on the world stage,” said Collins.

Economic Development

Rounding out the moderated panel discussions for FOCUS St. Pete was Dr. Keesha Benson of Grow Smarter St. Petersburg, Alan Delisle of the City of St. Petersburg, and Jessica Eilerman, Greenhouse Manager/City of St. Petersburg. Panelists disclosed the historical and ongoing direction of economic development efforts in St. Petersburg. In collaborative works to build equity, support entrepreneurship, and grow public-private partnerships, Delisle said “momentum and progress,” continue to drive economic development efforts throughout St. Pete.

FOCUS St. Pete wrapped up with a mini bus tour, complete with AC and excellent service provided Olympus Limo. The tour covered major landmarks and points referenced throughout the program, as well as a brief stop by the Duncan McClellan Gallery where attendees were able to watch artists perform a glass blowing project.

Thank you to our sponsors, the Bilmar Beach Resort and St. Petersburg College, as well as all of our moderators, panelists, and attendees. Don’t forget to look out for FOCUS St. Pete 2020.