State of the City Address by Mayor Rick Kriseman
Thank you Chairman Gerdes - my council member.
Thank you for your leadership, and for your dedication to those in West St. Pete and throughout our City.
I am honored to be joined today by the rest of our City Council, including Vice-Chair Amy Foster, and members Kennedy, Dudley, Rice, Kornell, Nurse and Newton. Please stand and be recognized.
Our Deputy Mayor, Dr. Kanika Tomalin, is also here. I am so fortunate to have Kanika as a partner in City Hall. I rely on her daily, and I’m looking forward to her leadership on many key initiatives in the coming year.
To the members of our congressional delegation, legislative delegation, county commission, and school board who are in attendance - thank you for being here and thank you for all you do for St. Petersburg. Please stand and be recognized.
And I am especially honored to be joined by so many members of our city team, including our City Administrator Dr. Gary Cornwell, St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway, and St. Pete Fire & Rescue Chief James Large. Please also stand and be recognized.
And finally, please join me in giving a round of applause to the ones who keep us safe, the men and women of our police and fire departments.
St. Petersburg...the Sunshine City...thank you.
Thank you for making my first year in office so special. Thank you for embracing our vision of St. Petersburg being a city of opportunity - where the sun shines on all who come to live, work, and play.
Thank you for getting us closer to that vision.
And thank you for being here today, on a Saturday, to reflect on our progress to date - and cast our eyes toward an even brighter future.
A future that includes a new pier.
Just over a year ago, I stood on these steps and announced that the fence around the pier was coming down to make way - not just for pedestrians, cyclists, and fishermen, but for progress.
The kind of progress that occurs when a community’s energy is harnessed - and then used to power a fair and open process.
I want to again thank the members of our citizen-led Working Group and selection committee for their service to our City - and for helping to get us to this point.
...a crucial point in this process.
On February 11th and 12th, at the Coliseum, the remaining design teams will present their concepts to the public.
From February 23rd to March 6th, St. Petersburg residents over the age of 18 are invited to choose up to three of their favorite designs via a secure online survey at newstpetepier.org.
At the end of March, the selection committee will generate their final rankings based, in part, on that important public survey.
In April, City Council members will select one design, which will allow my administration to enter into a contract with the winning team.
Ladies and gentlemen, I know the road to this point has been long. The good people at Politifact remind me of that quite frequently.
In fact, funding for this project has been secured for over a decade now.
It’s been nearly 7 years since the first visioning session began.
I’m the third mayor to contend with this issue.
And I’m determined to be the last.
With your help, with your continued engagement and enthusiasm, we are going to build - or renovate - a new icon for the Sunshine City.
Just as we made great strides toward a new pier in 2014, so too did we make strides toward an agreement with our baseball team, the Tampa Bay Rays.
I remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement with the team - one that addresses the singular concern expressed by some of our City Council members. A concern about development rights.
And that once presented with such an agreement, the majority of our City Council will support that agreement. In doing so, we will have protected our taxpayers and demonstrated confidence in St. Petersburg; confidence that the Tampa Bay Rays are unlikely to find a better home.
As I’ve said many times, St. Petersburg is a city on the rise.
Thousands of residential units are being added to our downtown.
New hotels are on the horizon. Businesses are thriving.
International acclaim has come through our cultural arts, the Grand Prix, and the Blue Ocean Film Festival.
Our public waterfront is one of the jewels of North America.
I believe in St. Pete’s future.
It was on these steps that I first spoke of a city on the cusp.
A daring and progressive city that leads the way.
And both inside and outside of City Hall, we are doing just that.
The first order of business was to establish the vision that I mentioned earlier...a vision rooted in our shared values...a vision that gives us focus and direction...a vision that allows us - allows me - to make tough decisions without looking back.
Decisions like tightening our police department’s high speed pursuit policy, winding down our red light camera program, and bringing curbside recycling in-house.
Decisions like hiring a great police chief, even if it meant slightly changing the process I created.
Tony Holloway is the transformational leader our community and our police department have long-desired.
And the department he is rebuilding - will soon be the envy of public safety agencies nationwide.
The new day at the St. Petersburg Police Department is evidenced not just by new leadership, but by new technologies and a new community-building effort called Park, Walk, and Talk.
This initiative is helping to foster a positive relationship between our residents, and our police officers.
It’s helping to build trust.
And soon, when our officers arrive in your neighborhood, they’ll be doing it in a cruiser with blue markings, and wearing a blue uniform.
This isn’t frivolous. It’s important. It not only signals a new day and makes our officers happy, but the new uniforms will stay cooler, cleaner, and be safer.
Nothing means more to me than the safety of the public and our public safety personnel.
And on that note, today happens to be the 4th anniversary of the deaths of Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz.
Two of our Heroes.
Later today, after my City team and I spend some time out here with each of you, I will be heading over to the monument at Demens Landing to pay tribute to these two men.
I encourage you to make time in your schedule, today or any day, to do the same.
Finally, as it relates to our police, I have some exciting news.
When I took office, one of the first things I did, along with Deputy Mayor Tomalin, was tour the police station.
What we saw was a building that had been neglected...that lacks sufficient space...that can't withstand even a minor hurricane...a building not worthy of the men and women who work there.
Finding the additional funds to build a new station quickly - became one of my top priorities.
Today, I am so pleased to announce that I will be asking our City Council to approve an agreement with Pinellas County -that will provide the final $20 million in Penny funding needed to build, in one phase, a new police station.
This new station will be built on 1st Avenue North, directly across from the existing station. It will be energy-efficient, strong enough to withstand at least a Category 4 storm, and will serve our community for 70 years or more.
And now for the best part: St. Petersburg’s taxpayers will not have to incur any new taxes or fees, as this agreement simply reallocates money that Pinellas County had already dedicated to our City.
A big thanks is due to County Administrator Mark Woodard and his team, for their hard work and assistance, and for recognizing the importance of this project.
I will continue to do all I can to help our police department - and Fire & Rescue Department - thrive. Because we can’t be a truly great city, if we’re not a safe city.
Or, a healthy city.
Soon, Deputy Mayor Tomalin will launch an initiative that will guide us toward a healthier future.
Before joining my team, Deputy Mayor Tomalin worked for years to advance healthcare in our community - and throughout our state.
She brings that passion and expertise with her to City Hall - and makes the important point that the health of our citizens is a defining determinant to the overall strength and success of our city.
“Healthy St. Pete” will work to elevate the health of our community through awareness, collective empowerment, and community-wide commitment to the many healthy lifestyle options available in our city.
We believe it is an important component to the attainment of our city’s vision, and a requirement - for us to be as innovative, creative and competitive as possible.
In 2012, Pinellas County conducted a community health assessment that identified several areas of need in our local public health system.
Our new initiative helps to answer these needs, with a boost to health-focused community engagement, delivered in partnership with the private sector.
We’ll start with a pledge that we’ll take – as a city – to make healthy choices - and promote healthy outcomes for ourselves and our neighbors.
When people think of St. Pete, they often think of great weather, world-class culture, and a progressive populous. We also want them to know that this is a healthy place to live, work and play.
While “Healthy St. Pete” will include our entire community – South St. Pete to Gandy, Tyrone to the Old Northeast, we know it is especially critical in the pockets of our community that suffer disproportionate need.
We see this need most in South St. Petersburg…a part of our community that calls for a progress that builds up people at least as much as it builds up places.
This is a long-term process that will take years of strategy, investment and commitment – from all of us – regardless of our respective addresses.
When we are able to help create a sustainable, positive shift in our underperforming schools, compromised housing, limited jobs and crowded criminal justice system, there’s no question that our entire community will benefit.
In 2014, we laid the significant groundwork required to initiate such change.
With an eye toward both short-term gains and long-term goals, we’re working hard to help hard-working people help themselves.
And, we are fortunate to have many partners. Pillars in the community such as: - the architects of the Agenda 2020 plan, a plan aimed at poverty eradication, the Pinellas County School Board, COQEBS; the Sheriff’s Department, Court system and many others.
The social determinants of poverty are not unique to South St. Petersburg, but our numbers tell us - that they plague this part of our community - in a way that demands change.
While 16.1 percent of our city’s overall population is impoverished, that number jumps to 32.6 percent - in the area designated as the Southside Community Redevelopment Area.
The creation of the Southside Community Redevelopment Plan is one of the many ways we seek to rewrite the story for those neighbors. Our neighbors.
This plan, guided by citizens and authored by our team of planning and economic development experts, updates and codifies the City’s economic development strategy to revitalize South St. Pete - in a way that reflects the issues and opportunities that define quality of life there.
The plan integrates the various efforts and strategies dedicated to the eradication of poverty - into one formal City economic policy document, and with the consent of our partners on the Pinellas County Commission, establishes a source of funding that will be used to finance public improvement projects for the next forty years.
In addition to the CRA, we are excited about promising plans that are unfolding in the Skyway Marina District, and under the leadership of Urban Affairs Director Nikki Capehart, we are gaining momentum in the areas of opportunity creation, reestablishing connections in our community through cultural affairs, nurturing neighborhoods and families, and being a catalyst for commerce.
Opportunity is the thread that ties each of these efforts together, and increasing opportunity is the only way we will make the long-held dream of a seamless city a reality for St. Petersburg.
A seamless city calls for blurred lines. In fact, it is a requirement.
And I am pleased to see lines and boundaries throughout our city being eliminated at a rapid pace.
Many of the faces I see Downtown at Paper Street Market are the same faces we see at Brocante Market on 22nd Street. S.
These are some of the same faces we see at Sylvia’s in the historic Manhattan Casino or at 3 Daughters Brewing.
If you haven’t taken a recent trip to The Deuces to check out Chief’s Creole Café or Gallerie 909, you’re missing two of our city’s most brightly shining stars.
So come spend time with us in South St. Pete and help us blur the lines. Help us move this historic area into its next chapter.
We’ve seen what such economic engagement can do in other areas of our city.
We're seeing it right now in our downtown core.
The lean years of the recession were hard, and our city team answered the challenge to serve with limited resources in a way that should makes us all proud.
But, evidence of our resurgence is all around us...in our ever-expanding skyline...in the westward drift of shops and restaurants down Central Avenue toward West St. Pete…in the dynamic growth of our world-class arts scene...in the diversity of people, places, flavors and sounds that color our city.
It’s a good time to be in St. Petersburg.
At least once a week, over the entirety of the last year, I’ve had the pleasure of working with developers, entrepreneurs and local business leaders - on their ideas, dreams and plans, to build and grow in the Sunshine City.
I am grateful for their energy and willingness to help our city, and ourselves, be our very best.
And, I’m grateful that the economy is being so cooperative.
The gross property value within the city continues to improve.
In fact, St. Pete’s tax base has recovered more quickly than many of our neighboring cities and towns that share our county.
For fiscal year 2015, the city added $104 million in new property value to the tax rolls – a value greater than St. Pete’s property value in the previous three years.
We are doing everything we can to make the most of these sound economic times.
We’re building - literally and figuratively.
In 2015, nearly 24,000 building permits were issued, for an estimated construction value of more than $391 million…the highest levels of permits and construction values since 2007.
It is critically important that we capitalize on these good times in a way that benefits all who call St. Petersburg home.
And, we’re doing just that, in the form of $11 million in Small Business Enterprise contracts awarded by the City in 2014.
The Greenhouse, a collaboration between the City and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, drew nearly 6,000 attendees to 235 events. More than 700 businesses received counseling or other assistance.
And thanks to the planning and hard work of my small business Liaison, Jessica Eilerman, I visited nearly 100 locally-owned, independent businesses, as part of our Mayor's Small Business Tour series.
The purpose of these tour stops is to gain a better understanding of the challenges facing our local merchants.
It allows me to listen, learn, and lead...and then go back to City Hall to cut red tape, in order to help keep these businesses in the black.
This is your city looking out for small and local business, as much as we do for big business.
But we also know we need both to be our very best.
And, that is why it is so rewarding to usher in so many triumphs with corporate relocations like Val-Pak, IQOR, and TRIAD Retail Media, to name a few.
In all, corporate relocations and new businesses created more than 750 new jobs in our city in 2014.
The individuals filling these new jobs are finding better neighborhoods to live in.
I met with more than 40 neighborhood organizations last year.
I can feel the excitement, as they recognize our efforts to reinvigorate them.
I have listened to what we are doing well, and what we need to change in order to improve.
And under the direction of Neighborhood Affairs Administrator Mike Dove, such change has come swiftly.
We’ve integrated the popular SeeClickFix App - into the Mayor’s Action Center, to make it easier for the public to report items to us, and more importantly, to make it easier for us to track our performance.
We created the mini-grants program, to get residents involved once again in their neighborhoods, and already, 28 organizations have used them.
And we brought back Neighborhood Grants for the big projects of neighborhood identity and beautification.
One of our most important tasks was to deal with the blighting effect of vacant and dilapidated properties.
We created a multi-faceted housing strategy that not only targets the most difficult properties, but also recognizes the importance of marketing our strengths.
We have increased the funding available for affordable housing and for people who need to repair their homes.
And we will soon be constructing new homes in the South side CRA that will build on the strengths of our existing neighborhoods.
I have long recognized the importance of code enforcement in eliminating both current blighted properties, and reducing future blight by maintaining our property code standards.
The result of our renewed commitment is that we increased the number of demolitions last year by 28%.
The number of boarded properties has declined.
We’ve recruited organizations to rehab homes, and increased the incentives that encourage them to do so.
And we’ve been laser-focused on homelessness.
In early 2014, I brought back Dr. Marbut to reevaluate our efforts.
He made 5 significant recommendations that are now either accomplished or in motion.
We have increased funding, added programs with St. Vincent DePaul, and strengthened our relationships with all of our partner organizations that serve the homeless.
Our homeless outreach team is a model for any City. And through my involvement with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, I’ve committed to ending veteran homelessness in St. Pete.
Now, 2014 wasn’t without disappointment.
Tallahassee politics got in the way of a bipartisan effort to kick start our anti-poverty initiative.
Much-needed improvements to our County’s public transportation system were defeated.
A national, and sometimes uncomfortable, conversation on race relations made its way to our community.
We’ve had to ask ourselves tough questions around what it means to have a values-driven culture that celebrates diversity and demands inclusiveness. They are conversations that continue.
Whether we're addressing employment issues, community relations, or tolerance for opinions and practices different from our own, my administration is committed to leading us forward with a dignity and dedication - that differentiates St. Petersburg as one of our nation's most progressive cities.
This commitment is what drives initiatives such as the community conversation on policing that we're having with Chief Holloway next week - and the series of citywide discussions around diversity that are planned for the balance of the year.
It is why we are conducting an internal climate study, and why my team proudly marches in the Pride and King Day parades.
We are a diverse city, with many differences and perspectives that will sometimes prevent us from seeing eye to eye.
And that's okay.
Because our common love for this city is strong enough to move us forward in a way that works, not to erase the differences, but to build bridges that cross all divides.
In St. Pete, we don’t shy away from these big issues anymore.
We don’t govern in fear.
We just do what we think is right.
In 2014, that meant signing on to Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
It meant raising the Gay Pride flag above City Hall, promoting Obamacare enrollment and advocating for Medicaid expansion.
It meant acknowledging our climate is changing and the seas are rising....and that our future waterfront must be planned accordingly.
It meant raising our minimum wage and valuing our families and children by providing paid parental leave
This year, it will mean keeping our kids out of handcuffs - and out of jail, and giving them a second chance.
It will mean providing residents an unprecedented look at St. Pete’s budget and finances through the OpenGov platform.
Soon, volumes of raw budget data will be found at stpete.org in the form of highly-visual, interactive charts and graphs, that enable better analysis and understanding of how your tax dollars are spent.
It will mean continuing to boost our national and international profile.
Friends, we are rising to the challenge and to unseen heights.
With your help, our neighborhoods, our businesses...every individual....will enjoy a new opportunity to be lifted into the light of our St. Petersburg sun.
Thank you and may God Bless our City and all who call it home.