Looking Back. (Do we have to?)

Posted On 01/05/2021 by Matt Lettelleir

While most of us are glad to see 2020 sail into the sunset and we’re all ready for the energy and optimism of a new year – it’s important (and fun) to remind ourselves of what we set out to accomplish and how we did.

When we wrote our Chamber forcasted “5 Key Issues on Our Economic Horizon in 2020” – we had no idea what was ahead. Unfortunately, we didn’t predict or imagine needing to work so hard on our “Relief, Reopen, Recover, Reimagine” efforts.

And though the pandemic and economic shutdowns stagnated progress on some of St. Petersburg’s larger issues, much progress was made by our community.

Issue I: How do we grow? Development and Affordable Housing

The Chamber’s Housing, Land Use, and Development (HLUD) Committee – Chaired by Jay Miller of J Square Developers,  successfully worked with City Council and City Administration to redirect the plan to charge developers a per square-foot fee on development in favor of removing regulations that increase the cost of construction, like parking minimums, and amending zoning requirements to allow small multifamily developments (duplexes, triplexes, etc).

Issue II: Where do we continue to grow? Coastal High Hazard Area (CHHA)

Possibly the most contentious development issue council faced in 2020 was the proposed changes to the Coastal High Hazard Area (CHHA) regulations to permit applications for density increases in areas of the city at risk for flooding.

Again, this effort was led by the HLUD Committee and Public Policy Council- Chaired by Anne Pollack of Fletcher Fischer Pollack P.L. The Chamber and many community partners believed the changes being proposed would open up opportunities for affordable housing, delay gentrification, maintain property values, and allow vulnerable mobile home parks to be redeveloped with more resilient housing. Opponents argued the changes would unnecessarily open up areas to development and put more people at risk of flooding and property damage.

City Council, with a 7-1 vote, approved the changes championed by the Chamber and other community partners.

Issue III: How do we improve transportation?

Plans for a 1-cent sales surtax referendum were shelved by the County Commission due to COVID-19 concerns in March forcing PSTA and transportation planners to look at budget cuts beginning in 2022. Expect a conversation on raising the gas-tax and/or a similar referendum in 2022.

In better news, the Transportation Committee – Chaired by Brooks Wallington of Hughes and Wallington Investment Management, celebrated the following wins in 2020:

  • PSTA received $21 million from the Federal Department of Transportation to complete the funding for the new SunRunner BRT from St. Pete Beach to Downtown.
  • VEO and Razor Scooters began operations in St. Pete creating additional urban mobility options.
  • PSTA launched a pilot autonomous shuttle, AVA, that will run from the Vinoy to the Dali Museum until March.

Issue IV: Is Tampa Bay a region or just a body of water?

This question remains unanswered as COVID-19 has delayed most regional projects. While there is some cooperation on returning the Westshore Interchange improvements to a schedule that coincides with the completion of the Howard Frankland Bridge, there is still much disagreement and parochialism on other issues of regional importance (the Rays, Regional BRT, Water, Business Recruitment, etc).

Our Chamber worked closely with The Tampa Bay Partnership on transportation advocacy efforts and Tampa International Airport on market growth efforts over the past year to ensure our community provides support to, and receives benefit from, good regional projects that move our economies forward.

Issue V: The Future of Pro Sports and Tropicana Field

Reports are that Mayor Kriseman and Rays leadership continue to meet to try and broker a deal to keep the Rays in St. Pete beyond 2027. The Rays want to explore a “sister-cities” season split with Montreal while Kriseman contends St. Pete is a Major League City that can support the team year round.

The decision may be coming soon the city issued an RFP for redevelopment of the Trop Site with a deadline for submissions of January 15, 2021. It is expected for the Mayor to bring a development contract to City Council by the end of the year.

Our Chamber was hopeful of exploration of the Rays’ split season idea in 2020 – looks like COVID won his one- and we’re hopeful to start working on this “sister city” concept in 2021.

Most importantly, Congrats to the Rays, Rowdies, and Lightning on those amazing 2020 champion seasons – it was a great reminder of how good it is to have major league sports in our community.

NEXT UP: 2021 Horizon Issues

Category: Advocacy, Featured