I am joining you today from The Palladium, the same beautiful theater where I’ve had the privilege of delivering my prior State of the City Addresses.
Today’s address, of course, is a little different. We’re virtual, as the times we find ourselves in have so often necessitated.
But, in keeping with a tradition that we began in 2014, the show must go on, especially in light of being prevented from delivering last year’s address during the opening of the St. Pete Pier.
Delivering a State of the City Address is important to me.
It’s an opportunity for me to tell you exactly where we are, and where we’re going. But this isn’t a one-way conversation.
This is St. Pete, after all, and your feedback and actions and activism are what help to make us shine.
I want to begin by thanking those who also help to propel St. Pete forward;
Beginning with our Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin. Since making history as our first African American female deputy mayor and city administrator, she has served us with distinction both within City Hall and in our community.
Thank you to our Councilmembers, Chairman Ed Montanari, Vice-Chair Gina Driscoll, and their colleagues, Robert Blackmon, Brandi Gabbard, Darden Rice, Deborah Figgs-Sanders, Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, and Amy Foster.
To our remarkable city team, from the administrators to the unsung heroes who keep the city running 24 hours a day; thank you.
And I especially want to thank our city’s doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals, first responders, educators, and all those who have taken good care of our citizens during this global pandemic.
We will never forget your dedication to our community.
When describing the state of our city, COVID-19 and its impact on our people, our economy, and our quality of life, is, without question, front and center.
We’ve, sadly, lost too many of our fellow neighbors.
We’ve lost jobs, and opportunities, and we’ve been forced to experience St. Pete – a vibrant, event-focused city – in new and different ways.
But, the shock of COVID-19 and the stressors that have followed have not broken us, literally or figuratively.
Within City Hall, our finances remain strong, though as we’ve begun to craft our Fiscal Year 2022 budget, we are mindful that the full economic effects of COVID have yet to materialize.
Outside City Hall, our economy, which has been dramatically diversified in recent years thanks to our Grow Smarter economic development strategy, also remains strong, though clearly not as strong as in recent years. Total employment is down, but still higher than where it was just five years ago.
Not surprisingly, we have seen most of our job losses in the food and hospitality sector, followed by health care and social assistance, and then retail.
In early 2020, quickly realizing the impact that COVID would have on our small business community and, in particular, our hospitality industry, we created the Fighting Chance Fund, getting more than six million dollars into the hands of our small business owners and their employees.
These dollars reached every corner of our community, and helped to keep business owners and entrepreneurs afloat.
We recently heard from one such entrepreneur, an artist, at our recent State of the Economy presentation.
Vivia Barron watched as her resources and savings dwindled. She said, quote, “my whole plan and dream for my future was just gone”, unquote, until our city’s Greenhouse stepped in to help, and directed her to those Fighting Chance Funds.
Vivia was able to continue to produce art - which, as you know, we love in St. Pete. Her resilience, the resilience of our entire community, is why I know we’ll be okay.
It’s in our DNA in the Sunshine City.
We can be disrupted, but we can’t be deterred.
It is especially important that we pay attention to Vivia and other minority business owners.
A Stanford University survey tells us that early-stage losses during COVID-19 had a disproportionate impact, like the virus itself, on African-Americans, and our latin and Asian communities.
It’s for this and many other reasons that we remain fully engaged in our top policy priorities; poverty eradication, opportunity creation, and equity building.
Through programs like St. Pete Works, we are getting people back to work, especially in south St. Pete.
Through exciting, ambitious ideas like our Deuces Rising plan, we are reimagining the role of the City in redeveloping places, and placemaking.
As part of the Deuces Rising Master Plan, the City of St. Petersburg is planning to develop approximately 2.8 acres with affordable townhomes and commercial space.
This unique endeavor, with the city as the developer in collaboration with the Sankofa Vision Group, will bring home ownership opportunities and commercial space for entrepreneurs to the historic Deuces.
The city is proud to lead and finance this development which tangibly expresses our commitment to equity and opportunity in traditionally underserved neighborhoods.
And we thank our partners for working alongside us to create wealth, mitigate gentrification, and ensure affordability.
Likewise, as we continue the process of redeveloping the Tropicana Field site, we do so with the goal of protecting this publicly owned land in order to ensure that it benefits the community, our citizens, and not solely private corporations and developers.
When we issued the request for redevelopment proposals, I wrote that this was an unparalleled, generational opportunity for us in St. Pete to address many needs, meet many goals, and create a vibrant and unique sense of place accessible to all.
Done right, the site will provide jobs, mixed-income housing, family-oriented entertainment, art and natural recreation.
Of the utmost importance, the site will reconnect to its adjacent neighborhoods and provide much-needed green space, capitalizing on the presence of Booker Creek.
A Community Benefit Agreement addressing employment goals, living wages, and affordability is paramount if we are to provide opportunity for our residents.
And following years of public engagement, city council feedback and participation, and leaning on the expertise of the subject matter experts within our city government, I will soon be picking a developer for the site, and they will be experienced and nimble enough to include or not include land for a future Rays stadium.
As I have said time and again, this is our chance to get it right; to right wrongs.
Some have said, as they did with the Pier project, that we should hit the pause button.
That we should slow this process down. First, it’s worth noting that this process has been slow, purposefully deliberate.
Some of these voices view this redevelopment as a project rife with challenges and problems.
I strongly disagree.
I believe this project provides us with a once in a lifetime opportunity, an opportunity we must seize now.
An opportunity that should not and cannot wait or be postponed.
The sooner we can provide jobs and affordable places to live to our residents, the better.
And the sooner the Tampa Bay Rays make their desires known, the better.
The stadium saga is now more than thirteen years old.
The Rays have spent more than half their existence trying to figure out where they’d like to play baseball for the long term.
They’ve worked with three mayors in St. Pete, two in Tampa, and officials in Montreal, yet they are no closer to an answer regarding their future than they were 13 years ago.
We love our Rays, but it’s time for them to pick a partner and get married. They recently signaled a desire to remain in St. Pete, and I believe that can happen as soon as they choose to sit down with us and have negotiations and discussions that are realistic in their expectations.
As we press forward through this pandemic, policies and projects alone won’t get us back to normal. We must continue to focus both during and after the pandemic, on building a culture of health.
Staying healthy is more challenging than ever, but also more important.
A healthier St. Pete can mitigate the effects of COVID and future viruses.
We continue to find ways to engage and educate our community with healthy programming through our Healthy St. Pete initiative. In just this last year alone, we partnered in dozens of community events to build on our city’s culture of health.
The Healthy Kids Program taught 75 health and wellness lessons and engaged more than 3,000 children in the community.
The Healthy Kids at Home program was created and launched as a virtual engagement mode and offered 10-weeks of virtual nutrition, fitness, and mental health curriculum.
Our Summer Food Program at Dell Holmes Park provided more than 1,500 free meals to residents.
And alongside 22 community organizations, we worked to elevate food security with the goal of creating an equitable, community-based system through the creation of the St. Petersburg Food Policy Council.
HealthyStPeteFL.com, now in its 7th year of existence, remains the best place to visit to learn more about our Healthy St. Pete initiative.
Plus, our city’s adopted Health in All Policies approach to decision-making by both executive order and City council resolution in 2018 is meant to serve as a recognition that all departments have a role to play in ensuring that everyone in our community can live a long and healthy life.
Enjoying the outdoors is also how we keep healthy, and it’s one of the reasons we safely opened the new St. Pete Pier in 2020.
Residents and visitors now have 26 additional acres to roam, explore, discover, and experience.
While the pier has only been open for seven months, it has already received considerable acclaim.
In addition to your positive feedback, and of course, selfies at the Pier, along with numerous industry awards, the St. Pete Pier was recently voted the number 2 best new attraction in the nation for 2020, second best only to the US Olympic & Para-Olympic Museum in Colorado.
And in our City of the Arts, we can take pride in knowing that the pier provided us with the opportunity to add five outstanding pieces of public art to our city’s collection, including the recently unveiled monument dedicated to the first commercial airline flight.
From the downtown waterfront to the west side and down the Deuces, art is everywhere in St. Pete.
A bright spot in 2020 was the installation of the city’s first publicly funded bronze statue. It depicts Elder Jordan, Sr., greeting residents and welcoming visitors to the historic 22nd Street South corridor.
And our work to honor our past while pursuing our future will continue with the creation of a new monument which will be located at the former police station site, recognizing in a grand way, the contributions of the police department’s Courageous Twelve.
We have come such a long way, St. Pete.
And there is so much we can accomplish working together.
According to the most recent data, since 2015, we have lowered our poverty rate by 37 percent.
That is more than double the drop experienced nationally during that time.
In 2014, the poverty rate among African Americans in St. Pete was 35 percent.
We have cut that in half.
In that same year, the poverty gap between black and white was 23%. As of 2019, that gap is now down to 8%.
Down almost by 2/3.
Progress on poverty eradication means the most to me.
I’ve said time and again, buildings are wonderful.
We’re proud of a pier that brings people together.
We’re proud of our new police station, and we’re excited about the future of places like the reimagined Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, the President Barack Obama Main Library, or the smart growth we’ve engineered in places such as the Skyway Marina District.
We’re also excited about the future of our downtown marina, which is in desperate need of repair, revitalization, and placemaking that complements our Pier District, and it will provide us the opportunity to shore up our downtown sea walls to mitigate against rising tides.
Yes, the brick and mortar is important, but working to make sure no one in St. Pete lives in poverty, that lives are being made better by the work we do every day, that is the best feeling a mayor can have. It's why I sought and fought for this job eight years ago.
This isn’t my success. This is a team effort, and must continue to be a team effort in order to sustain our progress and overcome the impact of COVID-19.
The work that brought me here, the work that brings our community together, continues.
Our vision, “to be a city of opportunity where the sun shines on all”, will remain our vision until everyone finds their place in the sun.
The recently concluded StPete2050 will get us closer to that reality, while also informing future decisions related to the arts, housing, education, growth and character, sustainability and resilience, and transportation, among other focus areas.
Thousands of you contributed your thoughts, ideas and desires to StPete2050, initially in person, and then virtually during these challenging times, and the result is a new and well-informed guide for residents, local officials, developers, business owners, and organizations.
It’s a common vision for the physical, social, and economic advancements of St. Petersburg and will coordinate and guide development in appropriate areas of the city.
This plan will be used to support everything from comprehensive plan updates and land development regulations to transportation and neighborhood initiatives.
And we even received some valuable feedback from our city’s youth.
Here are just a few.
“More street art”
“Make schools better and higher rated”
“Save the trees”
Kids, we are on it.
Each and every one of these.
Our street murals make art accessible to all.
We’ve partnered with Pinellas County Schools to help schools in our city transform from failure factories to foundations for a lifetime of success.
In fact, our superintendent just reported to us that Pinellas County now leads Florida’s ten biggest school districts in graduation rates.
That’s great news.
And the achievement gap is shrinking.
And that’s even better news.
We are committed to clean streets and neighborhoods, and we’ve planted more than 1,000 new trees – including more than 500 at the new St. Pete Pier.
We are a city of not just plans, but action.
Action that can’t wait.
We recognized early on that we could not wait another second to have a tangible plan to create more affordable and attainable housing.
Our ‘Housing for All, From All’ plan is in effect.
It will take all of us, and it will help so many in our community; from retail workers to retirees, from single income families to single moms.
As we’ve worked to invest in people and bring dollars and spending power into places such as our south St. Pete Community Redevelopment Area, we knew that we needed to address the other side of the coin: housing availability.
We are, and we will continue to do so.
And we are focused on helping people remain in their homes by lowering their energy bill through our investment in organizations like Solar United Neighbors, or SUN, and the Solar and Energy Loan Fund, or SELF.
Our investment in SUN alone has brought solar power to more than 200 homes, offsetting more than 31,000 metric tons of lifetime carbon.
Jobs are being created, money is being saved.
Leading by example, the City has added more than a megawatt of capacity on our city facilities, with more solar in the pipeline for 2021.
This is progress toward our promise.
This progress, this era of progressivism and participation and inclusion in St. Pete, has helped to shape and elevate our city and our people…and people around the country and the world have taken note.
And we’ve done it, not through parochialism, but through partnerships.
Our region is shining, even on the darkest of days.
My thanks to Mayors Buckhorn and Castor, Mayors Cretekos and Hibbard, city councils and county commissions on both sides of the Bay who understand that we are stronger together.
Whether it’s bringing the Cross Bay Ferry here, or combating a global pandemic or getting our residents vaccinated as quickly and safely as possible, we are capable of so much when we simply work together.
Now, I have less than one year left to continue my work, and I will keep working to make our community better until they tell me it’s time to go.
I will depart knowing the State of our City is safer, stronger and sunnier than I found it, and that the next mayor will have the opportunity to make our city of sunshine and pelicans soar even higher.
It is good to be back at the historic Palladium at St. Petersburg College.
I want to thank Chairman Charlie Gerdes for that introduction. This will be Charlie’s eighth and final year on the St. Petersburg City Council, making him the longest serving councilman from District 1 since Rev. J.W. Cate left office in 1991.
Charlie has served and led with distinction and I look forward to seeing him in action over the course of this next year. Thank you, Charlie.
And my thanks to each of his colleagues, the members of our great St. Petersburg City Council. Please stand and be recognized.
Thank you, as well, to my Deputy Mayor and City Administrator, Dr. Kanika Tomalin. She not only oversees much of the business of the city and thousands of outstanding public servants, but continues to be a strong and inspiring presence throughout our city in her role as deputy mayor. Thank you, Kanika. And thank you as well to Tom Greene - our Assistant City Administrator.
We really have a first-rate team under us, people that keep the city running without fanfare...people that make us look good, make our city shine. I talk a lot about how people are St. Pete’s best asset, and that includes those who work for us.
It especially includes the public servants who keep us safe from harm...the men and women of the St. Petersburg Police Department and St. Pete Fire & Rescue.
It’s early in my remarks, but I’m going to go ahead and brag about both of these departments right now.
Thanks to the leadership of both departments, to the men and women who go to work each day and put their lives on the line, and thanks to an engaged and vigilant community, the state of St. Pete is safe.
Overall crime has dropped more than 30 percent over the past five years.
Auto thefts, which have received considerable attention, continue to fall; down nearly 40 percent since I was first elected. The raw numbers paint a clearer picture. Auto thefts peaked in 2006 when nearly 3,000 cars were stolen. Fewer than 750 were stolen last year, which is a record low for us. There’s a lot of credit to go around for this decrease, but mostly we want to thank you, the residents, for making it harder for bad guys and misguided teenagers to steal your car. So, please, keep up the good work, keep your keys in your pockets, and keep your doors locked...it helps to keep our city safe in so many ways.
There’s another, larger announcement I want to make today. Five years ago, the St. Petersburg Police Department had an interim police chief, a dilapidated headquarters, an even worse training center, and ugly green uniforms and cruisers. There was no community-oriented policing like Park, Walk, and Talk (which our officers spend about 20,000 hours a year doing, creating a strong relationship with the community, which has resulted in a record amount of tips received).
Policies that were not beneficial to our officers or our residents, such as a high-speed chase policy, were in existence because no one had said “enough” - that it was time to err on the side of safety. And, perhaps worst of all, morale was low. Officers were leaving, not coming...and they certainly were not staying.
Since 2014 - when we began to turn this ship around - with our best officers taking the lead - we’ve hired 259 new officers. More than 200 are still on the force, a nearly 80% retention rate so far. That’s a record for us.
Today, progress and stability are all around us, most noticeably at the corner of 1st Avenue N and 13th Street, where an amazing and long overdue police headquarters - complete with our city’s largest solar array - will open in less than one month.
St. Pete, I am pleased and proud to stand here today and tell you that the transformation of the St. Petersburg Police Department is complete and that the state of the department has never been better. Chief Holloway and your command staff, Assistant Chiefs Dente, Kovacsev, and Gilliam, please stand and be recognized.
There is work to be done, always, but we couldn’t be more proud of how far we’ve come...how far the outstanding service of our officers has carried us all.
Our St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue department, led by Chief Jim Large, also continues to shine through community engagement and awareness, ensuring our city’s people and our many new structures and renovated buildings are safe.
And, I’m especially proud of the ways we are working to make sure our Fire department reflects the diversity of our community, not only today, but for years to come.
About three years ago, a few concerned citizens and former firefighters reached out to Deputy Mayor Tomalin with worry about the impact a rash of retirements would have on diversity within the department. Working with the community, our team created a series of outreach efforts that highlight opportunities for our under-represented neighbors. In addition to mentoring and targeted recruitment campaigns, a cadet program, like we’ve long had in our police department, now works to offset the costs of training for those who may not otherwise be able to pursue this noble career path due to financial constraints.
And, a partnership with Gibbs High School that exposes and trains students for service after graduating will yield its first class of graduates in 2019! Special thanks to Gibbs Principal Reuben Hepburn, and all those who are working everyday to expand opportunity with St. Pete Fire and Rescue. Preparing young men and women for a career in the fire service or medical field is one of the most significant ways we are increasing lifelong opportunity in the Sunshine City.
And, thanks to our taxpayers and our St. Petersburg City Council, we were able to finally replace the aging Fossil Park fire station. It opened just a few months ago and it’s more than just a beautiful building - as it will help to ensure our firefighters are better equipped to do their jobs.
It’s also open to the public, as are all of our fire stations. Please stop by and say hi. The men and women who work there are always happy to receive visitors, happy to welcome kids to the station and inspire them to someday join the department.
After all, everything we do is for the children of this community. We are working to create a city of opportunity now and for the future; for the kids.
I’ve highlighted the success of our Second Chance program in the past, but because it’s such a point of pride and so important to our future, I’ll do it again. Since April of 2015, 356 of our community’s children have attended our Second Chance program after committing their first misdemeanor. That means instead of being sent to a juvenile assessment center - they were sent to give back to our community. We afforded them a second chance and to their credit, they took advantage of it.
It’s a shining example of who we are in St. Pete.
Candidly, I wish we had the power to do even more as it relates to criminal justice.
I wish we could do things like fully decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. But we have a state attorney, and we have state laws, as outdated as they may be.
Because the reality is it probably won’t be long before small amounts of recreational marijuana are allowed in Florida. And when that day comes, the State of Florida will be a fairer place to live, especially for African-Americans, who we know are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession despite federal data showing that black and white Americans use marijuana at about the same rate.
Fortunately, our police department has worked hard and worked smart to redirect residents of our city who commit petty crimes into a diversion program rather than send them to jail. We are big proponents of Pinellas County’s Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion Program. We are determined to keep families together, people at work, and records clean.
And on the topic of fairness, I want to touch on the recently successful Amendment 4, which will restore the voting rights of more than 1 million residents with prior felony convictions, including many right here in St. Petersburg. The amendment language was self-executing, meaning it doesn’t require lawmakers to weigh in or implement it. The good news: people are registering every day. It’s working. And we don’t need the Florida Legislature to touch a single thing.
To me, it’s simple. The more people voting, the more people engaged in our democracy and in our government, the better. We cannot do enough to extend opportunity to those re-entering our community, whether it’s the opportunity to vote, or the opportunity to work. Our whole community benefits when everyone in it believes their personal prosperity is possible.
A couple of years ago, in his farewell address, President Barack Obama said “It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy...to embrace the joyous task we have been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours, because for all our outward differences, we in fact all share the same proud type, the most important office in a democracy, citizen.”
Now, thankfully, there’s a great deal of civic pride and participation here in St. Pete. Your attendance this morning, and the work you do throughout the year to make this city shine, are evidence of that.
But soon, we’ll be asking even more of you, and urging the rest of our residents to be as engaged as you are. We are commencing a generational endeavor called Vision 2050.
Some of you may remember we embarked on a similar exercise about 20 years ago, called...wait for it...Vision 2020. City officials, sponsors, hundreds of citizen delegates, steering committee members, and presenters led the way, crafting an impressive document that helped to inform future decisions and guide our growth.
But we want to do even better this time around.
We want to take full advantage of interactive technology and new platforms available to us to create not just a guiding document, but a constructive conversation. We want and need to hear from you.
There will be more on this to come, but starting today, you can visit StPete2050.com to help us begin the discussion.
And there is, as you know, a lot to discuss.
Our city is growing, thankfully. We are on the rise, literally and figuratively. We owe this, in part, to a national economy that rebounded strongly out of the Great Recession. But our success is not the result of larger, external forces. As was highlighted in our recent State of the Economy, St. Pete is outperforming the United States and many of our peer cities.
In the last three years, our median income increased by 20 percent, compared to 12.5 percent for the United States as a whole. Among Florida’s five biggest cities, the most recent data shows that our poverty rate is now the lowest. Unemployment is also in decline, outpacing the Tampa Bay region, the State of Florida, and the United States. And it’s declined every year since 2015. Property values in our south St. Pete Community Redevelopment Area are up nearly $260 million dollars in the past four years.
‘St. Pete Works’, our recent collaboration with community organizations to increase employment in the CRA has already yielded jobs for more than 100 of our residents.
Our progress isn’t an accident. It's the result of many factors, including and especially the focus and hard work of your city government, our community partners, and thousands of determined residents, business owners, and young people. That’s the spirit of St. Pete; that drive to dream bigger, do better, and be better.
One such example is our Cohort of Champions youth training initiative. One of several initiatives under our ‘My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper’ program, Cohort of Champions is one of our many responses to a string of gun violence among young people that plagued our city more than three years ago. Each year, African-American teenagers and young men are recruited to join the program and better position themselves for college or job placement. They are given career readiness, entrepreneurial, and team-building training and their families receive vital wrap-around services. So far, more than 132 of these young men have become champions.
One of them, 15 year-old Kashif Haynes told us that, quote, “This program impacted me because I’ve seen there are better ways of life than what I saw. I see kids stealing cars, robbing, and selling drugs...and I saw that it doesn’t have to be me. I could be better than that and I could change my community and help others see the same thing I’m trying to see and accomplish.”
Kashif is here with us this morning and I’d like for him to stand and be recognized.
Kashif is only one young man of 132 who is rewriting his story! And that number is growing.
Our future economy will be stronger and more diverse because of these young men. Helping them - and their families - realize their possibilities and potential is the least we can do. And, we know that as long as there is need we must do more.
Our economy is also transforming, which is more good news. We will always have our sacred foundations, such as our cultural arts and museums. In fact, our museums (and there are now nearly one dozen of them collectively employing more than 2,000 people) had nearly one and a half millions visitors enter their doors in 2018. It’s remarkable.
But we are now building on such foundations.
We are growing up.
We had our renaissance. We had our recession. This is our coming-of-age. If you’re looking for St. Pete to be a sleepy retirement town with a hospitality-focused economy - keep looking. It’s not who we are, and not who we want to be. When people admire our city’s efforts to go green, it has nothing to do with benches. Those days are done.
We are building a city of the future and for the future.
We are leaning on our ‘Grow Smarter’ strategy to grow and recruit jobs in marine and life sciences, specialized manufacturing, financial services, creative arts and design and data analytics. We’ve learned these are the most sustainable and rewarding jobs for the residents of our city. The data shows our strategy is working.
Last year alone, our city development administration helped secure nearly 2,000 new jobs for our economy - that’s a big number - and most of them were ‘Grow Smarter’ jobs in one of those five sectors I just named. We are diversifying our economy with more livable wages, good benefits, and more consumer spending power. We have also been focused on retaining and growing anchors in these industries like Jabil, Raymond James, Power Design, L3, and UPC. These important anchors secure a cluster of workforce talent that other companies want to be around.
And while recruiting, securing and growing anchor corporations is a priority, it's not our sole priority. We are as determined as ever to support our small business owners and entrepreneurs. This is evident not just by the myriad of programs and services offered by our Greenhouse, or our marketing department’s outstanding showcasing of local businesses, but by a newly proposed ordinance called the Storefront Conservation Corridor plan. This unique overlay is the result of a nearly two-year community conversation and aims to promote independently-owned businesses, maintain a pedestrian-friendly streetscape and promote the conservation of historic assets along Beach Drive and Central Avenue, from the waterfront to 31st Street. This isn’t the answer to our growing pains downtown, but it is an answer.
It’s another tool in our tool kit to help keep St. Pete local, to help us keep the vibe alive.
I want to thank every person and organization that provided valuable feedback and helped to shape this ordinance. We brought everyone together on this one. And I mean everyone. It is proof that through patience and persistent public engagement, anything is possible.
And so I look forward to city council’s unanimous approval so that we can send a clear message to the world about who we are, what we value, how we want to grow, and what we’re capable of when we work together.
I know there are concerns about our growth. Please know that I’m concerned, too.
I’m the proud mayor of St. Pete, but, I’m also a guy that eats lunch up and down Central Avenue, buys his wife Valentine’s Day presents at the RockShop, and shops for records at Daddy Kool and olive oil at Kalamazoo. Our small businesses, our craft breweries, our art galleries, our murals, our music, our grittiness - those are the things that make St. Pete, St. Pete. And I’m determined to keep it that way while also ensuring dynamic and much-needed growth - growth that includes height and density.
In a built-out city like St. Pete, height and density are the only options on the table when it comes to growth. It also happens to be a progressive approach. Unlike other cities, we are fortunate that we are not having divisive debates about sprawl and the elimination of green space. In fact, your city government has purchased and protected dozens of acres of green space since 2014. A few years ago, we decided that the property next to Abercombie Park was worth buying, and that the future expansion of that park gave us an opportunity to better highlight its unique history while advancing our heritage tourism efforts. Working with our residents, we decided town homes adjacent to the Boyd Hill Nature Preserve was a bad idea, and so we bought those 35 acres too. And, as a side note, I am so excited about what’s next for Boyd Hill as we will connect the preserve to a public campground and pioneer area accessible through a redesigned 31st Street South entrance. The best is truly yet to come for Boyd Hill.
Growth is good.
It’s especially good when you balance it with quality of life initiatives like more parks, more trees, more public transportation, more bikes, more bike lanes, and more bike lanes on Complete Streets.
And yes, more of those are on the way, because public safety and building a walkable, bikeable city is a priority for my administration.
In fact, Complete Streets isn’t just about quality of life - it’s about life. Because speed kills and our local roads are not meant to serve as miniature interstates.
And that’s why Complete Streets are also a priority for the residents who live near them...residents like Jess McCann.
Last year, Ms. McCann sent me a very touching letter. And she gave me permission to share her words with you. She said:
Dear Mayor, “I know that you received significant resistance for the Complete Streets initiative. So, I wanted to write to encourage you. My disabled daughter and I biked on it this morning for the first time. I have a recumbent trike tandem. My husband fitted her wheelchair to the back on the tandem we ride. I put a windsock on the back for visibility. I’m sure we look like a rolling carnival. Nevertheless this Momma was happy this morning! We had enough room in the bike lane. The bike lane was smooth and clear of debris. All our favorite businesses are on that route. Rollin’ Oats will be our stop on the way home. So thank you for the Complete Streets and I hope more are in the offing soon. It is really carving out a bike space out of a car centric universe. The sun was shining on us.”
The McCanns and their daughter Kelly couldn’t be here today, but they are at home watching.
And Kelly...we wish you were here, but please know that those bike lanes are for you. You’ve given us the confidence to keep going and to keep doing what’s right for the future of our city, for kids just like you.
Please join me in giving the McCanns a round of applause.
This is what I mean by quality of life. We’re doing those things. And as long as we do them, as long as we build not just Complete Streets, but a complete city, we can handle growth.
We can handle a tall building...or two...built planfully and according to a code and vision for our city that has served us well so far.
And I want to dispel the myth that our growth is a burden on our infrastructure. The truth is, our sewer system can handle more growth. What has challenged us in this past is not toilets flushing, but rainwater entering our aging, pervious sewage pipes and overwhelming our system.
Even the Tampa Bay Times, in a story two years ago, asked, quote, “Is the downtown building boom fueling St. Petersburg's sewage crisis? The answer is no.” Those are their words.
So, please, spread the word. Our system is much improved, and we are better prepared to handle future heavy rains, which climate science tells us will only increase in frequency.
Since 2016, we’ve invested nearly $200 million in the reduction of rainwater inflow and infiltration that has caused us problems in the past. And, we’re building additional capacity. We’ve lined or replaced about 12,000 feet of stormwater pipes and more than 400,000 linear feet of sewer pipes. We’ve fortified manholes and increased treatment capacity. None of this would be possible without you, our constituents, our ratepayers, understanding the gravity of the situation. And so I thank you.
Now, I want to touch on a different kind of infrastructure; emotional infrastructure - a term I am borrowing from my friend Peter Kageyama.
The new St. Pete Pier is emotional infrastructure.
We are building a sense of place, a place where memories will be created, where kids will laugh and learn, where couples will fall in love or get married, where so many special occasions will be celebrated.
Now, I know what you’re thinking - when does the darn thing open?
The answer is...soon.
The process to replace the pier began about fourteen years ago when I was the chairman of the St. Petersburg City Council.
I am fully aware that it took only eight years to send a man to the moon following President Kennedy’s 1961 speech.
There are no politics on the moon, though. Nor are there constituents or a city council. (Sorry, guys).
But, the most important thing about this new pier isn’t the budget or the timeline, both of which are subject to so many variables. The most important thing is getting it right, ensuring that residents and visitors, young and old, rich and poor are drawn to it like a beacon; ensuring that the focal point of our city’s postcard makes us proud for generations to come. I’m happy to take the heat on the cost of things like construction materials, but I consider that to be largely immaterial to the larger goal.
And today, we take another step toward that goal, not with more brick and mortar, but with the unveiling of our St. Pete Pier logo and the reintroduction of our pier’s social media platforms.
The logo, like the pier, is sustainable. It is timeless, not trendy. It is an illustration of our vision for the Pier – sophisticated, yet accessible. It will complement, not compete, with the environment and vibrant colors of the Pier District. And today, everyone in attendance will receive an inaugural promotional item with the new brand identity as you leave the theater.
(I feel like Oprah giving away prizes. You get a car...you get a car…)
Since this is St. Pete, they will be electric cars, of course.
And if you haven’t heard, we recently partnered with Duke Energy to bring even more EV charging stations to our city. This is just the latest partnership with Duke that will help to make our city even greener. Our other recent and shared initiatives with Duke include solar power at the St. Pete Pier and our LED street light conversion which we announced early last year, and which is now well underway.
These are just some of the small things we are doing to get us closer to our sustainability and resiliency goals.
By now, you are no doubt familiar with some of the big things we’ve done or are doing - the work and objectives that brought us recognition and assistance from Bloomberg Philanthropies, like our commitment to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and powering St. Pete with clean energy.
We have a lot of work to do, and given the changing climate, increasing temperatures, and rising tides, not a lot of time to do it. That’s the sobering truth.
And the situation we are in becomes even more daunting if we continue to go at it alone. Regionally, we’ve made some progress. As a state, we’ve made none. As a nation, we’ve gone backward under this president. The world community, despite the Paris Agreement, remains off course.
But not us.
We will do what we can, while being fiscally responsible, to leave this city better and more sustainable and resilient than we found it. As the saying goes, “we did not inherit this earth from our ancestors, we are borrowing it from our children” - and we will do right by them; on this issue, on every issue, every single day.
We will not leave public safety and poverty and sewer pipes and the pier to the next people.
These are our issues to solve.
This is our time to shine.
And working together, I know that we can keep the state of St. Pete sunny, strong, and special for generations to come.
To my family, to Judge Mark Shames, members of our city council and city administration - including Administrator Dr. Gary Cornwell and Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin and family; to the St. Petersburg Police Department and St. Pete Fire & Rescue, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:
There is no place I would rather be today than right here with each of you, at the beginning of a new year and a new term.
Four years ago today, standing in this very spot, I made several promises. I pledged, working closely with our city council and the more than 250,000 citizens we represent, to tackle the most stubborn challenges facing our city; including poverty in south St. Pete, the construction of a new pier and police station, our agreement with the Tampa Bay Rays, and our infrastructure; specifically, our transportation infrastructure.
All of us, working together, have either resolved these issues, or made significant strides toward resolving them.
African-American poverty is now at an all-time low. But, we’re not declaring victory. There’s a long road ahead to ensure sustainable progress that can’t be undone.
A new, 26-acre pier is under construction, and will feature new restaurants, an event lawn, a unique playground and splash pad, a marine science education center, open air market, and so much more. Construction of our new police station is also well under way and on budget.
An agreement was reached with the Rays in order to improve our chances of keeping the team in the Tampa-St. Pete area, and a master plan for the Tropicana Field site has been completed and presented to the team.
And our local and regional transportation infrastructure has become a priority for City Hall; resulting in the Cross Bay Ferry pilot program, bike share, Open Streets, and a community driven Complete Streets plan that will lead to neighborhood greenways and new and improved trails and bike lanes. In fact, St. Pete was recently recognized by the League of American Bicyclists as a Silver Level Bicycle Friendly city, a ranking no other mid or large-size Florida city has attained.
Despite our progress on transportation and transit, the fact remains that the Tampa-St.Pete area is woefully behind our competition. And it’s costing us in countless ways. That’s why I’ll be working to not only bring the ferry back, but to better interconnect our city, and to connect our city with Florida’s other urban cities via more diverse mass transit options.
And we can have debates about the merits of rail or other alternative transportation, and we can debate how to pay for it, but there’s no debating that the status quo is simply unacceptable.
Other infrastructure challenges, such as the 40th Avenue bridge and our sewer system, are being addressed head-on. In fact, nearly $100 million has already been spent reducing the amount of stormwater that enters our wastewater system and increasing our treatment capacity.
And my hope is that this issue will now be less of a political football and that we can make even greater progress without unnecessary distraction.
This is important.
This isn’t just a public works project. It’s a public safety and public health project.
In addition to our immediate upgrades, our integrated ‘one water’ initiative will help us understand how drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, reclaimed water and recreational water uses overlap, and how we can best prepare for heavier use, a changing climate, and rising seas.
And all of this work complements our ongoing efforts to make St. Pete a cleaner and greener city less reliant on fossil fuel. Our latest initiative will formally kick off two days from now as we announce our agreement with Duke Energy to remove our incandescent street lights in favor of more efficient and brighter LEDs. And brighter streets also means safer streets; for our residents, our police officers, and especially for our kids.
Our kids, their future, is really what all of this is about.
It’s about ensuring St. Pete forever remains a wonderful and affordable place to live, work, and play. We have work to do.
We recognize the difficulty that many families have finding homes that are the right price and right size, and we are working on solutions.
We also recognize that the very businesses we want lining our main streets - small and independent businesses - are threatened.
I believe in market forces, but I also believe leaders have a role to play in helping to shape a city by protecting the distinct flavor of vital commercial corridors, like Central Avenue. That’s why we kicked off a community conversation last May, and that’s why we’ll continue that conversation in 2018.
And we’ll also begin a larger conversation about St. Pete’s growth and future, which I expect will result in a Vision 2050 guiding document.
Again, it’s about our kids, and leaving our city better than we found it. We’re on track to do just that.
Beyond the progress I highlighted are new ordinances and policies and bold stances that have brought us closer to fully attaining our vision of being a city of opportunity where the sun shines on all; of being a truly innovative, creative, and competitive community.
This is the result of a team effort, beginning with the men and women who dared to turn a train stop into a resort town, and a resort town into a hub of arts and culture. Today, we dare to go further than anyone has ever imagined.
Today, we are a St. Pete that pursues a Cuban consulate, Amazon’s second world headquarters, and the World Pride celebration. We are a St. Pete that is brash enough to take on federal campaign finance laws. We are a St. Pete that has enough confidence to tell our Major League Baseball team to go look around - we’d love for you to choose us, but we’ll be just fine without you, too.
Today, we are a St. Pete of green initiatives, not green benches; a St. Pete where 20,000 strong march along our waterfront for women’s rights, and for every other right Donald Trump wishes to deny us of.
Today, we are a city of a compassion, a city that aims to be what Pope Francis has called a “workshop of peace.”
Today, literally today, we are a city where… for the first time...a majority of our council members are women.
This past year has been an especially important and inspiring year for women...because of women. I have the good fortune of being surrounded by strong women in my life; my wife Kerry, my daughter Jordan, my wonderful mother-in-law Ann, as well as so many exceptional women in leadership roles throughout our city government; from Dr. Tomalin to our first-ever female City Attorney, Jackie Kovilaritch, to our assistant city attorney, Jeannine Williams, to numerous administrators and directors. And we are better for it.
In fact, between our council members, our legal team, and our Deputy Mayor, as many as eight women may be sitting on the dais at one time in 2018.
So, let it be known: we are proud of our progress and our progressivism; especially right now, when good people from throughout our state, nation, and world are looking for rays of hope, and even refuge.
And so, we must continue to lead, not slow down. We must continue to shine bright, and not dim our light for others.
Join with me today. Join our council members. Join our city’s business leaders and faith leaders and neighborhood leaders and everyone who makes positive contributions to our city, in moving us forward and finishing the work we began.
And let’s do so united, because a united St. Pete is an unstoppable St. Pete.
My thanks to Chairwoman Darden Rice for that introduction. Darden has been a tremendous ally as we’ve executed an ambitious agenda these past few years and I’m looking forward to her leadership in 2017 and beyond.
And my thanks to Darden’s colleagues for their presence today and their hard work every day.
My thanks to Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin. Not a day goes by that she doesn’t make our entire community better.
I want to thank Grace Cudar, her parents Jen and Darren, and her teachers at Perkins Elementary. And I hope Grace does not run against me for mayor this year.
Finally, before I start, I want to recognize my youth congress and thank them for joining us again this year. Please stand and be recognized.
To the residents and business owners of St. Petersburg, gathered here today or watching online or on TV, to our city council, to our tireless city team, including and especially our St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue and St. Petersburg Police Department - a police department, by the way, that is keeping St. Pete safe as our violent crime rate is currently at a 6-year low.
January 2, 2014 was the day I became your mayor, and the day we began this journey toward our collective vision.
And we have a come a long way. But let’s take a pause and think back to that day.
We woke up in a city with a shuttered pier, surrounded by an ugly fence.
We woke up in a city stuck in a standoff with its Major League Baseball team and with no vision for the site they call home or how to integrate it with our historic neighborhoods to the south.
We woke up in a city that had given up on building a new police station, unable to secure funding or negotiate with our county partners.
We woke up in a city with too much poverty and no plan in place to address it.
...A city with it’s central park serving as a bus depot as it had for more than 40 years...a dilapidated, vacant building looming over the corner of one of our most prominent downtown intersections...and a large vacant lot with no future on our historic 22nd Street.
...a city with a financial outlook so negative that Moody’s said we will, quote, “remain challenged in the near term to restore structurally balanced operations”. Today, Moody’s says we have “a healthy operating reserve position and a strong management team that implements conservative budgeting practices.” And TheFiscal Times just ranked St. Pete as Florida’s financially strongest city.
On that January 2 in 2014, we woke up in a city with no second chances for minors... no commitment to creating a healthier St. Pete... no plan for a changing climate or clean energy... no bike share...no high-speed ferry…no curbside recycling.
...a city with no Economic Development Corporation to help us compete and Grow Smarter.
That was just three years ago, and look how far we’ve come. Together.
Each of these strides forward move us closer to being the city we envision...an innovative, creative and competitive community of opportunity.
And, looking back to appreciate, to learn, to take stock is important - but there’s so much left to do.
As you know, there are new challenges; challenges unforeseen just three years ago.
I began my remarks last year by calling attention to a spate of gun violence that closed out 2015. I pledged to address the risk factors that affect our children and young adults, to do our very best - given the limitations put on us - to end gun violence; to work with our City Council, our city team, and our community to intervene before a fatal decision is made. And so we launched the ‘Not My Son’ Campaign, a grassroots community effort specifically designed to protect and encourage our African-American boys and young men and to ensure that the summer of ‘16 and beyond looked different than 2015. This campaign, an important program in our larger portfolio of Urban Affairs initiatives called ‘My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper’, brought us together the evening of June 30th to simply do more.
Parents took a pledge to intimately involve themselves in the defining details of their children’s lives.
Faith leaders flocked to help.
Neighbors declared ‘Not My Son’.
The young men whose lives we so highly value affirmed their own self worth.
And since that June kickoff, not a single teenager has killed or been killed in the City of St. Petersburg. Not one. And we pray that continues.
The next step in making good on our promise is our Cohort of Champions program, a comprehensive one-year training initiative for up to 100 of St. Petersburg’s most vulnerable African American boys and young men.
And we do all of this while executing our larger urban affairs strategy aimed - first and foremost - at eliminating poverty. I am pleased to share with you that our most recent data shows St. Pete’s African-American poverty rate decreased 8.5 % in one year, outpacing the nation, the state, the county, and the cities of Jacksonville, Miami, and Tampa.
In fact, our overall unemployment rate is also outpacing our nation and our state - which wasn’t the case just a few years ago.
And one of my favorite new statistics: Since we began this journey, new business registrations have increased by 105%. Gains have been most robust in South St. Pete, especially within our new Community Redevelopment Area where the number of business registrations have increased by 174%. 174 percent! That’s a lot of ribbon cutting.
And, seeds of economic change that we’ve planted in recent years are sprouting growth throughout our community.
Economic advances propel us toward our goals at an astonishing pace. In addition to a 40% increase in total construction value year over year, our property values continue to rise and the demographics of our population continue to paint a picture of progress. And, while St. Pete’s skyline continues to transform, our expert economic development team, led by Alan Delisle, is working hard to make sure our city’s growth keeps its distinguishing character in mind...that we honor our past, while we pursue our future.
And, so we highlight this progress, but also as I mentioned, at the top, our challenges.
I’m not sure if this ever made the news, but we’ve had some big problems - specifically with our sewer system.
And we’ve had a problem with the management of that system. Too often, we’ve had a problem communicating the problem.
That can’t and won’t continue.
But until our planned upgrades are complete, wastewater discharges may continue. And no one is more displeased by that possibility than me.
As such, no one is more dedicated to fixing it than me. No group of people are more dedicated to fixing it than our city council.
That’s why we’re preparing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars. In fact, work has already begun - with nearly $14 million spent since October. In addition to the more than 300 million we're spending in the short term on wastewater improvements, we are increasing our storm water rates to pay for shovel-ready projects and to update a storm water master plan that has sat on a shelf for more than 22 years. How a coastal city like ours can have a 22-year old storm water plan is beyond me - but we’re going to fix that.
We’re adding it to the list.
Because that’s why we’re here. That’s why I’m here.
As I said to our council members following our most recent sewage event, there have been countless reports, studies, votes, actions and inactions – leading up to this moment. None of us were present for all of it, but all of us were present for some of it, and we are all present now.
It is our responsibility. First and foremost, it is my responsibility.
It is up to me to guide us forward and to make sure that we get the future right - that we take good care of a city and an environment that we are borrowing from our children, and their children.
And we must tackle this important work with optimism and gratitude, for I believe we are fortunate to be in this position, at this moment in time; just as we are fortunate for the opportunity to build a pier or a police station, or to eliminate poverty, or to create a Skyway Marina District or an Innovation District, or any number of endeavors. This is another opportunity to fix something and build something that we can be proud of...to get it right in a way that creates a city better than the one we inherited.
It’s an opportunity to grow more resilient as the climate changes, seas rise, and the weather grows more severe.
And, it’s also a chance to lead. Cities like ours across our nation face comparable infrastructure challenges, including our neighbors throughout the Tampa Bay region and state. And, while this challenge is not one we ever would have elected, it certainly presents an opportunity for us to live our values and invest at a pace and with purpose that sets an emerging standard. For the resilient way I am certain we will emerge from this trying time, I am proud of our city. We have much work ahead, but we are up to the task. And, as I said, we’ve already started.
With unanimous city council support, the city has allocated funding to create our first-ever Integrated Sustainability Action Plan - or ISAP - and to partner with the County on long-term resiliency planning.
This initial effort with the County will set up a long-term planning tool for the analysis of various climate change scenarios. It will inform decisions for how and where we invest, as well as drive investments in neighborhoods with the most vulnerable populations.
It is important for the whole community to be resilient not just before and after acute weather events, but during the more gradual changes in our environment, as well.
This is not some far-off hypothetical. This is real. We received about as much rain in one month last year as we normally do in six months. And it's that rain - not sewage, not too much development - that overburdened our infrastructure.
The resiliency planning we’re doing is a cross-departmental effort - no more silos - and is being done in collaboration with the many storm and sewer analyses and projects underway. We understand that our city is a connected and dynamic living system where cause and effect are considered, and projects that offer multiple benefits will be prioritized.
To frame this effort, an Urban Land Institute grant brought a technical advisory panel to St. Petersburg just last month. Experts from New Orleans, Miami, Boston, and the Tampa Bay Region worked with community members to discuss their perspectives and needs as it relates to resiliency in the community. A report is expected later this month, and it will offer guidance on how to plan for resiliency in an equitable way that benefits all residents, in every corner of our community.
Now, the funding allocation is not only for planning efforts, but for early implementation projects as well. An energy efficiency analysis for city facilities is underway and will result in projects to reduce our energy consumption. Also underway is a partnership forged with the USF Center for Clean Energy where graduate students will work with the city on energy audits and offer new and innovative insights and solutions on energy efficiency and renewable energy. And we thank USF St. Pete for their continued partnership on this, and so much else.
Finally, at the end of 2016, St. Petersburg became one of only 58 communities in the nation to complete a rigorous STAR certification process. STAR is a nationally recognized community rating system where a third party verifies our measured actions for community-wide sustainability. And I’m proud to announce this morning, for the first time, that we have qualified as a 3-STAR community and are now recognized nationally for sustainability leadership.
There are only four 5-STAR communities in the entire country, and we will aim to join that list over the next 2 to 3 years.
Beyond STAR, we have made bold and challenging commitments to sustainability on behalf of the city. We’ve signed on to a national campaign to transition to 100% Clean Energy, and we will work with the community, our energy providers, and state leadership to make this shift. Through this commitment, St. Petersburg demonstrates unprecedented vision.
These are ambitious goals, but they will be met with the help of ambitious and talented people and organizations from throughout Tampa Bay, including USF St. Pete, USF Tampa and College of Marine Science, Eckerd College, St. Pete College, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, the NAACP, the 2020 Task Force, the St. Petersburg Sustainability Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the Sustainable Urban Agriculture Coalition, the Sierra Club, and the Council of Churches.
Thank you, all.
A shining example of sustainability will be the New St. Pete Pier - which, not only will be built by the end of next year - but will be built above FEMA’s elevation requirements.
It will be built to last.
As it has throughout our history, the new pier and pier district will serve as the most important public space in our city. It will be for everyone. It will serve as a great equalizer by bringing our diverse community together and encouraging interaction with each other and our environment. From walking and biking to kayaking and paddleboarding, it will help our residents develop and maintain healthy lifestyles. It will be a place to discover and learn; a place for people to take it outside. And as a unique extension of our iconic waterfront park system, it will again be an integral part of our advertising arsenal.
It will be worth it, St. Pete.
It will be worth our time and money.
To give some perspective to our journey, look no further than the city across the Bay. It took nearly forty million dollars and forty years to conceive and complete the beautiful Tampa Riverwalk. There were challenges, environmental mishaps, and missed deadlines.
And then it opened.
And, judging from media reports during last week’s college football championship, the vision has been realized. It's a success.
Dynamic and iconic public spaces make good cities great; great cities grand.
As the Tampa Bay Times once wrote, such spaces are, quote, “often criticized by those who dislike the design, cost, or location. The Gateway Arch, Millennium Park, the Space Needle - all were controversial but looked toward the future and created exciting public spaces that will be enjoyed for generations.” end quote.
We are creating such a space. It will be enjoyed for generations, by everyone who cares to come...and that makes me proud.
Our focus on public spaces and increasing access and equity in our community is not limited to our downtown or Pier District.
For example, since 2014, we’ve added approximately 40 acres of green space to our city for recreation and preservation purposes - no easy task in a well-developed city surrounded by water on three sides.
We’ve also added public transportation options, including Bike Share, which will expand to 30 stations and 300 bikes by the end of this month.
In Bike Share’s second month, nearly 1,500 trips were taken for a total of 4,500 miles. Our heat map shows that some have traveled from our downtown all the way to Weedon Island. And while Smart Growth America ranks St. Pete’s downtown as one of the best for walking and biking - with a score of 91 for each - we still have plans to make St. Pete an even friendlier city for cyclists.
The early returns for our Cross-Bay ferry regional pilot program are also exciting. The ferry had more than 13,000 passengers in its first two months, and the last week of December saw weekday ridership numbers rise to the same level as the popular weekends.
We don’t yet know if this pilot program will warrant an attempt at establishing a permanent ferry service, much of that will depend on the demand our community creates. But, we’re learning a lot - it's better than any written study - and we’re providing our residents and our visitors with an easy, breezy way to travel between St. Pete and Tampa.
So, if you like the idea of a permanent connection, then give this pilot program a try. Visit CrossBayFerry.com to book your trip. And remember, free parking is available adjacent to the ferry, right next to our museum of history.
Or take advantage of our bike share.
Or a taxi.
Or take an Uber, as I did on my way here this morning.
I want to be clear - I am a proponent of ridesharing. I know our residents and visitors enjoy it, and my position is we must embrace ridesharing technology while helping to ensure public safety - which is my primary responsibility as mayor.
The next ordinance my office proposes to City Council essentially deregulates our vehicle-for-hire industry, creating a level playing field and letting the market, each of you, pick the winners and losers. We will, however, be incentivizing Uber, Lyft and the taxi industry to go through our standard process, but we will not mandate it. Ultimately, each of us will have the freedom to decide whether we want to ride in a vehicle with the city’s seal of approval, or without.
Like many innovations, ridesharing technology is disruptive. And disruption is a catalyst for change. And it can be positive change. If this proposed ordinance passes and works, St. Petersburg will be a leader. We will have resolved a complicated matter that many communities and even our state legislature are still wrestling with. If it doesn’t work, that’s okay too. As I said on that January 2nd morning in 2014, we are not afraid to take bold action or to make mistakes. We will make them and we will learn from them.
Finally, speaking of disruption, I want to conclude with a few thoughts about the defining elections with which we closed 2016. It was a long year - many things were said, more things were felt - a dividing fault line fractured the cohesive feelings that are signature to our nation's culture, and followed a path from the nation's headlines into each of our homes.
As you may know, I’ve been a little critical of Mr. Trump.
My criticisms of him are not about politics.
I simply disagreed with much of what he says and how he says it. I disagree with most of his ideas and his policy proposals. I believe the things he says and does are hurtful to St. Petersburg and to the diverse and wonderful people who call our city home.
But, as both our current president and next president have said, it is time for our nation to heal. Reconciliation is a demand of our brightest future. And, it requires our attention, each of us, at the most local levels. Donald Trump becomes our president in 6 days. Our nation will wisely continue its longstanding tradition of a peaceful transfer of power. Our federal government's function will roll on.
But it's home where most of our focus should be.
And it's simply impossible to look at the elections of November 2016 and not acknowledge the resounding sound of St. Petersburg's voice. As a city we chose continued progress, values-based leadership, inclusivity and equity. A president was elected, but so were a congressman and a state senator who live in and love St. Pete.
We reinforced a strong county commission and sent promising new leadership to Tallahassee. And we gave our strong approval to solar power and medical marijuana.
There is much reconciliation that needs to occur on a national level, but it's important to acknowledge how promising our landscape remains on the local level, right here in the ‘Burg.
And, it's particularly important to remember that the non-partisan positions of mayor and city council will remain focused on policy, not politics...on progress, not party affiliation. Bottom line: you can count on us to continue to pursue what's best for St. Pete, to work together to make our community better. For, by doing that, we are making our country and our world better.
So, let’s continue to lift St. Petersburg up...let’s continue to be that beacon of progress...that city where the sun shines on all who come to live, work, and play. Let’s make St. Pete even greater.
I want to begin by thanking my deputy mayor, Dr. Tomalin.
Thank you, Helen Pruitt Wallace. St. Petersburg is a City of the Arts and we are so fortunate to have world-class talent, like our poet laureate, across every discipline of the arts world. Thank you for your elevation of arts and letters in our city.
To Chairwoman Amy Foster, thank you for that introduction, for your leadership, and your service to our city. I greatly admire your commitment to the most vulnerable members of our society and your efforts to bring a better quality of life to our neighborhoods along the 34th Street corridor.
I want to thank your colleagues, the rest of our partners in progress, Vice-Chair Darden Rice, Charlie Gerdes, Jim Kennedy, Ed Montanari, Steve Kornell, Karl Nurse, and Lisa Wheeler-Brown. Please stand and be recognized.
To the elected officials here today from our congressional delegation, legislative delegation, county commission, and school board - thank you for joining us, and for all you do for our community.
I am also thankful for our entire city team. Many are here. They are dedicated public servants who help the sun shine on us every day. The hard work, skilled expertise and commitment of our team - keeping this city on track 24-hours-a-day...it’s really inspiring, it’s beyond the understanding of most, and it truly exceeds expectations. Please stand and be recognized.
Finally, some of my youngest, smartest advisors are here.
They are the Mayor’s Youth Congress, and they are one of the reasons I have so much hope for the future. Please give them a round of applause.
Those are just some of the words that were shared with us on Facebook and Twitter when we asked our followers to describe the state of our city, and I couldn’t agree more.
We love where we live.
But we’re not perfect.
For all of our recent accomplishments, for all of our strides, there are still many lives to improve and many problems to solve.
There is still much work to do.
This is evidenced by the seven young men killed by gunfire at the end of 2015.
Now, it is true that crime, including homicides, is trending down in St. Petersburg. We’re a safe city. And our return to community-oriented policing has strengthened the relationship between our police and our residents.
But statistics and progress reports provide no comfort to the mother who finds her son face down in an alley.
And nor should they.
What you should know is that this is the issue I care the most about. Issues like the pier and the baseball team - they’re important, but they don't keep me up at night.
What means the most to me are people’s lives, their quality of life, their safety, and whether opportunities exist for them. That’s also what our city council cares the most about. It's our top job.
With the help of many in our community, and many of you here today, we are addressing the risk factors that affect our children and young adults. We are determined to do what we can to end gun violence, and most importantly, the underlying choices that lead to violence. Violence that too often leads to an exponential loss of life.
Those killed, and those who have killed…both are promises broken. Both are lives lost. These are the stories we read about.
But, there are many other stories that never make the paper. Many other lives that don’t end with a bullet, but languish in a reality of disenfranchisement and despair.
It’s unacceptable to me. It’s unacceptable in a place we’ve nicknamed the Sunshine City. And with your help, with the help of our city council and my entire team, we can write a new story for these young men.
Our approach is multifaceted.
From the halls of our government to the streets of our city, we’ve put policies in place to create opportunity, such as implementing paid parental leave for moms and dads.
We’ve raised the minimum wage to $12.50, with a plan to reach $15.00 by 2020.
New programs are connecting our police and fire departments to aspiring first responders at two south St. Pete High Schools. We’re working to establish a First Responders graduate preparation program at Gibbs High School that allows students to dually earn their high school diplomas and train to work with the St. Pete Fire Department after graduation, and we’ve introduced a new cadet program that helps defray the costs of training to be a firefighter- so the doors of opportunity can swing open a little wider for the underserved in our city.
At Lakewood High, the new Student Police Cadet Program allows juniors and seniors to take college level courses and receive law enforcement training to prepare for a career as a police officer. This training serves to strengthen their skills and improves their likelihood of completing the police academy. And hopefully, when eligible, the participants will apply to join the best police department in America, the St. Petersburg Police Department.
Our police department has come a long way in a short amount of time. There’s no reason to mince words. The department I inherited was appalling. For too long, we were failing the men and women who work there - the people who protect us. We were also failing the public, and making the news for all the wrong reasons. Today, we have a professional, compassionate police department led by a first-rate police chief and command staff. St. Petersburg, you are well served.
Now, externally, our Urban Affairs agenda, under the direction of Nikki Capehart, guides our work in South St. Pete.
Our focus areas include Opportunity Creation, Commerce, Neighborhoods and Families, and Cultural Affairs.
With leadership from partners like the 2020 Plan Taskforce, Boley, the Pinellas Opportunity Council, the Urban League, and the Pinellas Ex-Offender Reentry Coalition, and policy shifts like those I mentioned earlier, more of our residents are being given the jobs, tools and second chances necessary to thrive.
In fact, the number of youth served by our community’s workforce readiness programs jumped from 277 in 2014 to 478 in 2015 - a more than 70 percent increase.
Our monetary investment in youth employment for Fiscal Year 16 is $885,000 - a nearly 200 percent increase from a decade ago, and more than double the investment I inherited. And I want to thank City Council for sharing this priority.
The 2020 Plan pilot program, administered by the Urban League and the Opportunity Council, has helped to lift 38 families out of poverty, while simultaneously training their children in leadership and employment. After 18 months of hands-on work with our families, 36 parents-in-poverty have completed career skills training and at least 19 secured a new and better paying job as a result.
Through job recruitment, entrepreneurship, and business retention, we are stabilizing and growing our economy south of Central Avenue. I want to thank the Deuces Live and the 16th Street Business Association for their hard work and dedication to these vital corridors - corridors that both require and contribute to strong, safe neighborhoods.
And I need to pause here and recognize Mike Dove, our Neighborhood Affairs Administrator. Mike and his team have made remarkable progress in just two years. And this progress is most evident in south St. Pete, where we’ve reduced boarded properties by 45 percent.
Our final focus area for Urban Affairs is arts and culture. And a walk down 22nd Street South proves we have no shortage of either. But, we need to be strategic, and we need to ensure that the rich history and character of south St. Pete is preserved.
Our Urban Affairs Agenda - it’s working. We’re seeing results. But we must be patient. We know that breaking the cycle of poverty and lifting up our south St. Pete community requires a long term approach. An approach that is not simply window dressing - but instead creates sustainable results.
The results of our investment may not be politically expedient. In fact, our work may not all manifest during my administration, or even my lifetime. But it’s the right thing to do.
For too long, City Hall didn’t always do the right thing. Our leaders took short cuts. They erected pretty street lights and built things...without building up the people who live here.
Important work was done, but it wasn’t enough. We know we have to do more.
Now, we don’t have all the answers; not to gun violence, not to poverty. But we will do everything in our power to find the answers and the resources to implement them.
If it's time - we'll take it.
If it’s partnerships - we’ll build them.
If it’s money - we’ll invest it.
And, while we’re doing our part, Pinellas County Schools must do theirs.
I don’t want anything called a failure factory in my city.
I don’t want any child going to a school called a failure factory.
But the time has come to stop the finger pointing. It’s time for action and solutions. And it’s time we realize that we all have a role to play.
Everyone, in every corner of this city; whether you’re a retiree in Shore Acres or a young family in Lake Maggiore Shores. Everyone needs to be involved.
Zamarie Johnson understands this.
He’s twenty years old and a student at St. Pete College. He busses tables to make a few dollars. He has no children.
Zamarie could spend his free time doing what a lot of twenty year olds do.
But instead he stepped up to be the President of the Southside St. Petersburg Community PTA.
In a recent Tampa Bay Times story, Zamarie spoke of the important role his parents played in his education. Of his mom, he said, “She didn't make excuses, she got it done. She found a way to be involved.”
The same goes for Zamarie Johnson.
He is here with us today and I’d like for him to stand and be recognized.
Thank you, Zamarie.
There are so many good stories like this...so many people just doing the right thing.
People like Tameka Lindsey, whose son James attends Campbell Park Elementary.
A few months ago, Deputy Mayor Tomalin and Leah McRae, our director of education and community engagement met Tameka on National Walk to School Day. Tameka volunteers through the United Way to run the walking school bus program at Campbell Park. After school, she often looks after other people’s children until they make it home from work.
Tameka is one of the many reasons the sun shines here. Please stand, Tameka.
Our public schools mean everything to us. They are certainly essential to our city’s economic health and our Grow Smarter strategy.
This strategy highlights five growth industries for our city; Manufacturing, Financial Services, Data Analytics, Creative Arts and Design, and Marine & Life Sciences.
I believe you’ll see this strategy unfold soon at the Commerce Park site on 22nd Street, formerly known as the DIP. We are excited about the development plans there, and the new jobs and opportunities that it will bring to the Deuces.
Another major development opportunity is less than a mile away from the Commerce Park. It’s called...the Tropicana Field site. You may have heard of it.
The understanding we’ve reached with the Tampa Bay Rays is good news. It’s good news for baseball fans, for our taxpayers, for the city of St. Petersburg, and for our entire region.
Allowing the team to explore future stadium locations in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties prior to 2028 increases the likelihood that the team will remain in our city or our region. Our taxpayers are now protected, and we’ve given some clarity to those seeking to build, relocate, or invest in our downtown.
I, of course, still believe the team’s current site, reimagined and redeveloped, is the best place for a new stadium. In the coming years, more and more people will be living within walking and biking distance of the team’s current location. In fact, 2,383 residential units are currently under construction or being planned for our downtown.
The interstate will continue to offer an easy way in and out for fans traveling by car. Our bus system will be modernized, and the potential for a high-speed ferry linking our waterfront to Tampa is a real possibility.
Many of the St. Pete residents born since the Rays’ first pitch in 1998 are now young adults with ticket-buying power, and with no allegiance to the teams that once called St. Petersburg their spring home. Finally, Pinellas tourism dollars and site development proceeds could supplement the private financing needed to build a new stadium.
Finally, as it relates to the Rays, we know St. Petersburg is the best place for this team. We know we’re a major league city. We’re an international city. We’re home to world-class museums, auto racing, and film festivals. Our burgeoning Innovation District is anchored by renowned health and marine sciences. Our downtown walls are adorned with the murals of famous and soon-to-be famous street artists.
We’re a city that competes for a Cuban consulate. Us. Little St. Petersburg.
We’ve become the daring city that I spoke about on the steps of City Hall during my inaugural address two years ago.
The Rays now have the opportunity to learn what we already know.
And now, our focus must shift toward developing a master plan for the Trop site and keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg forever. I will soon be announcing the formation of a Baseball Forever Campaign to include St. Pete-based fans of the team, business leaders, and elected and government officials. They will be asked to pitch our city to the Tampa Bay Rays by demonstrating future fan and corporate support and the many benefits of remaining on the current site, perhaps on the site’s eastern half closer to our bustling downtown and waterfront.
In the event the Rays do find a new home in the Tampa Bay area, we will have the unique opportunity to transform 85 acres of urban land and the team will still be just a short drive away. We will also receive up to 24 million dollars of compensation from the team. Among our strategic allocations - whether from compensation received or from our redevelopment escrow - should be at least $5 million toward our efforts in South St. Pete.
The bottom line is that this is a win-win. And I can assure you that St. Petersburg will come out on top.
Because that’s what we do.
It’s what we did in 2014.
It’s what we did again in 2015 - a year marked by tangible progress; a year marked by moving forward on issues that were stalled for far too long.
We said goodbye to an inverted pyramid and hello to an extension of our iconic waterfront park system.
The New St. Pete Pier will truly be the people’s pier. There will be something for everyone. It will once again be the crown jewel of St. Petersburg, and more specifically, our new Pier District - the first phase of our waterfront master plan.
I want to thank everyone for their patience as the team behind the new pier finalizes their design and we finalize the permitting process. 2016 won’t be the most exciting year for our new pier, but it’s an important one. And we remain committed to staying within budget and honoring the programming requested by our residents.
In 2015, we stopped arresting kids who commit their first misdemeanor and started requiring them to give back to their community. Since the program began, 77 juveniles have attended our Second Chance program, and 70 have completed it successfully.
In 2015, we ensured our entire city team, from the mayor down, take inclusivity training because we know we must lead by example.
We kicked off our Healthy St. Pete initiative working with community partners to ensure our residents are living, eating, shopping, and playing healthy.
We welcomed Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez to St. Petersburg so that he could shine a national spotlight on our City of Opportunity initiatives.
We opened a new St. Pete College campus in Midtown, and with the help of Council and so many in our community, we made the Skyway Marina District a reality.
In 2015, we grew our cultural footprint with the start of SPF, the St. Petersburg Festival. And I cannot wait for SPF 16.
And we grew the footprint of our parks system by setting into motion the expansion of both both Boyd Hill Nature Preserve and Abercrombie Park in West St. Pete; nearly 40 more acres for preservation and exploration. Untouched. Forever.
We also put into place an executive order reinforcing my commitment to make St. Petersburg a model city for sustainable practices and set us on a path to becoming what’s called a STAR Community; Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities. This will establish our baseline, help us identify gaps, and set goals for a sustainable St. Pete.
And with a grant from FEMA, we are funding the rebuild of five St. Petersburg homes in flood-prone areas, and physically elevating a sixth home above the floodplain. This should be complete by the end of this year, and our intent is to see this kind of work continue well into the future.
But there is still much work to do, and my concern about our city’s resilience when confronted by sea level rise, or the extreme weather like we saw this past summer, is only growing.
I remain hopeful that City Council will use a portion of our BP settlement to fund my recommendations for a professional, comprehensive resiliency plan and climate action plan.
Also in 2015, we recycled.
I’m especially proud of our city because not only are we recycling in greater than expected numbers, but we’re recycling wisely. One of the things cities worry about as it relates to
recycling is the contamination level - or the amount of non-recyclable materials that are placed into the blue containers. Our contamination level was forecast to be as high as 20%.
To our surprise, the survey showed a 7% contamination level. That means more revenue received from our recycling materials and shows just how careful you have been to make sure we are successful. I anticipate the program will continue to grow, that more people will participate, and that we will save more money by diverting these materials from our solid waste stream.
I’m also proud of our city team. This was a huge undertaking for Mr. Ben Shirley and our sanitation department and they delivered.
And in just two days, recycling will get even easier for residents whose homes are on an alley.
Our progression to alley recycling is an example of listening, learning, and leading. Its how government should work.
In this instance, we listened to our neighbors. Specifically, the presidents of the Historic Old Northeast and Kenwood neighborhoods. Their advocacy for alley recycling prevailed and their civic engagement is to be commended. Peter Motzenbecker and Carolyn Gambuti are with us and I’d like for them to stand and be recognized.
Thank you, Peter and Carolyn.
And thank you to each of you, the people of the Sunshine City.
You know, over the last two years, I’ve traveled around a bit to promote St. Petersburg, to recruit businesses, or to increase trade opportunities for our existing businesses.
...other cities, other countries, other continents - I’ll go anywhere to tell the unique story of St. Petersburg, and the people who call it home.
Because it's the people who are our greatest asset - who make the sun shine here.
It’s the child running through the splash pad at Dell Holmes Park, and the teenager learning to mix music at TASCO.
It’s the Eckerd College Search & Rescue team responding to an emergency, and the entrepreneur wowing the crowd at the Greenhouse.
It’s Ralph’s Mob marching to the soccer match, and it’s the childhood friends opening up a market in the Old Southeast.
It’s the young woman selling strands of sunshine, and it’s the Kids & Kubs playing in it.
It’s two men getting married inside City Hall, and it’s the Tuskegee Airman celebrating his 100th birthday.
It’s the Bishop at Christ Gospel Church, but it’s also the rabbi at Temple Beth-EL.
It’s St. Petersburg, and it’s the best city in America.
This week I will reach the 100-day mark as mayor of The Sunshine City. It may be a symbolic milestone, but it’s a moment worthy of a pause to appreciate our accomplishments to date and our opportunities ahead.
During the campaign, I had an unofficial motto: listen, learn and lead. Sitting in coffee shops and restaurants, attending meetings and community forums, walking door to door and visiting small businesses, much of my time as a candidate was dedicated to simply listening and learning.
Following the campaign, the work done by our unprecedented volunteer transition team reinforced much of what I had heard from voters and also provided me with additional information and ideas.
As mayor, I have continued to listen and learn — only now it helps to inform the important decisions I make. It helps me to lead.
Understanding what’s important to our community, what our community values, is what led me to remove the fence around the pier the very moment I was sworn in. It’s why I made our police department’s high-speed pursuit policy more stringent, protecting innocent bystanders and our men and women in uniform. It’s why I wasted no time signing on to Mayors Against Illegal Guns or rolling out new green initiatives. It’s why I recognized that driver behavior has improved to such a degree that our red-light camera program will soon be no longer needed.
Progress has also been made on the high-profile issues that dominated the campaign.
On the pier, I have held numerous meetings with community leaders and stakeholders working to build consensus on a new process and way forward. On the Rays, I have met with their leadership and remain confident that people of good faith can come to an agreement that preserves both our interests. In the meantime, I hope you will join me in cheering our team on in anticipation of a World Series championship.
We’re also making good on our pledge to rededicate ourselves to South St. Petersburg. Our goal is to invest our time and resources in people, not just places, creating opportunity for every willing resident. Making City Hall more accessible to neighborhoods in and around Midtown is an important first step, and we’ve done that by opening two satellite offices at no expense to taxpayers.
Each Sunday through the summer, a new outdoor weekly farmers market on the “Deuces” at 22nd Street and 9th Avenue South will bring fresh food and cultural options to the neighborhood.
Many other economic development, housing, education and cultural affairs initiatives are underway in South St. Petersburg. We’re blazing a trail toward sustainable progress that enhances the quality of life there, while elevating our entire city at the same time.
This is only a sampling of the more than 100 ways we’ve moved St. Petersburg forward in our first 100 days.
However, our most exciting and integral advancement is the introduction of a new vision and planning model for the city, an initiative spearheaded by Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin.
Like every mayor before me, I come to this office intent on elevating our city to a higher level. The establishment of a vision that guides our work is the defining determinant of my team’s ability to successfully translate that intent into action.
The margin of excellence in which St. Pete’s next level waits to rise requires expert leadership, as well as management. If we are to seize the opportunities that exist at this moment, we need a team committed to visionary advancement. A mayor mired in details at the mutual exclusion of an overarching goal that meaningfully ties those details together for the benefit of the city’s long-term future misses the mark.
The vision is organized along four strategic pathways: stewardship and fiscal responsibility; innovation; impactful service and community engagement. This provides parameters to which every member of our city team is held accountable and clarifies our intended destination for all who come to live, work and play.
It allows our 2,700 team members to pursue departmental priorities in an integrated way that delivers an amplified impact. It articulates our aspirations and the expectations of our community, setting the bar for transcendent public, private collaboration.
And perhaps most importantly, it delineates a singular overarching goal that differentiates our city and propels it toward its highest potential.
We’ve intentionally focused on the “why” behind what we do as much as the “what” to ensure our plans and actions align with purpose.
We also are developing three- to -five-year strategic plans while crafting solutions to the daily issues and opportunities that arise. This is why we’ve worked hard to develop the vision and planning model that supports it in our first 100 days.
Our policies and positions will reflect this work.
Our city’s common goal, as articulated in our vision, values and pathways, will be our litmus by which decisions are weighed. This is the Kriseman administration’s prescription for progress. It calls all of us to action on our shared journey to be a city of opportunity where the sun shines on all who come to live, work and play — an innovative, creative and competitive community that honors our past while pursuing our future.
The campaign is over. The transition is over. And our first 100 days are coming to an end.
In City Hall, there are no more excuses. Change begins with us. The sun shines here.
Thank you to our talented community choir, to my Rabbi, Rabbi Michael Torop, and to Judge Tom Ramsberger.
I am honored to be joined on these steps by my family, my wife Kerry, my daughter Jordan, and my son Samuel;
And by our Deputy Mayor, Dr. Kanika Tomalin, and her family, Terry, Kai, and Nia;
To the esteemed members of the St. Petersburg City Council, Chairman Dudley, to the elected officials who have joined us, distinguished guests, dedicated city employees, transition team chairs and volunteers, and to my fellow citizens, thank you for being here – for me and for the city we love.
I especially want to thank our public safety personnel as well as the city employees who helped organize this event - at nearly no expense to our taxpayers.
Some have asked - why such a ceremony?
Because anything less would fall short of the significance of this city and this day.
St. Petersburg is Florida’s fourth largest city. 250,000 people call it home, and millions visit us every year.
We are a serious city teeming with serious opportunities to raise our profile to match that of our quality of life.
Traditionally, the swearing-in of the mayor happens upstairs in Council Chambers, a regal room with space for a relative few – space quickly absorbed by family, friends and those closest to the city’s newest elected officials.
While I appreciate that tradition, I thought it was important to move to a space that could host all who care to come – a symbol of my commitment to move forward together as one community, and to do so in the sunshine.
And so today belongs to all of us. The doors of City Hall are open and the journey toward our collective vision has begun.
I am honored by your presence at the start of this New Year and at the cusp of a new era - a unique time, but a familiar place.
From the arrival of the Orange Belt Railway in 1888, when a tiny hamlet got its name and found its way onto the map, St. Petersburg has experienced moments just like this.
In the 1920s, this hamlet was transformed into a modern city with tall buildings and grand hotels.
Following World War II, a single-family housing boom nearly doubled our population, while the opening of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and U.S. Highway 19 linked us to the rest of the state and the nation.
In 1993, we approved a strong-mayor form of government.
A renaissance was imagined and later realized, and resulted in awesome strides.
During each of these eras, men and women of vision pushed forward together.
Some were leaders; others were residents who simply loved their city and wanted to make it better, and still others accomplished the hard work of laying rails, pouring concrete, sawing, hammering, and hundreds of other hands-on tasks.
Today, on this doorstep of profound change, we recognize the hard work that has been especially cut out for us, for this moment in time;
Like the need for a new pier.
It’s been a long and winding road, and it’s time to put our destination in view.
The form and fashion of the next pier is unlikely to meet with universal approval. We must recognize this now so that our progress isn’t impeded later.
However, what we can agree on – and to a large degree already have – is how our signature structure will function. With a renewed sense of urgency and a spirit of collaboration, I am confident that the coming year will be productive and that a final design will emerge.
In the interim, residents and visitors should be able to once again enjoy walking, running or fishing around the pier head.
And that’s why this morning we have begun the process of removing that unfriendly fence, allowing the pier head to be accessible within the next week.
The hard work of reaching an accord with the Tampa Bay Rays must also begin, with the primary goal of doing what’s in the best interest of the residents of St. Petersburg.
And while I am eager to see this resolved so that we can better plan St. Pete’s future, our desire for clarity must not supersede the need for continued due diligence.
The Pier and the Rays may be our most high profile challenges, but a police station, a port, a renewed focus on creating sustainable jobs throughout the city, economic stimulus for Midtown and South St. Petersburg, and the revitalization and rebranding of vital corridors - also hang in the balance.
On Midtown and South St. Pete, my remarks on election night bear repeating.
Too many people there are struggling.
One out of every five residents is unemployed.
One out of every four lives at or below poverty.
Property values have fallen 42 percent since the onset of the Great Recession.
This is happening right here in St. Petersburg.
It’s unacceptable, especially given Midtown’s rich history and potential.
Even before the railroad came to St. Petersburg, pioneers lived along a twisting woodlands path called Lakeview Trail.
One of the newcomers was John Donaldson, the first black man known to live here. He farmed 40 acres, carried the U.S. Mail and was among the most respected men in all of Pinellas County.
Midtown went on to nurture many more giants: entrepreneur Elder Jordan; the Rev. Enoch Davis, who served his congregation for more than 50 years; legendary educators such as O.B. McLin; athletes, artists, and actors such as Angela Bassett – who, like me and Dr. Tomalin, was a graduate of Boca Ciega High School.
To me, it’s simple; the best way to honor Midtown’s past is to improve its future.
The new Community Redevelopment Agency for Midtown and South St. Pete is a step in the right direction and is an important ingredient for a broader plan aimed at reducing poverty by 30 percent by the year 2020.
But, let me be very clear. Public and private dollars alone won’t get us there. It will take hard work and a commitment from all of us to fully realize the dream of a seamless city, of One St. Petersburg.
One way to break down imagined boundaries, racial and otherwise, will be to make getting around easier.
We are at the bleak crossroads of a critical infrastructure crisis.
That is why we have been engaged in the necessary conversation about restructuring the bus system, adopting light rail, and even reconfiguring our tax system to pay for the way we travel in this region.
But make no mistake: that necessary conversation is over. Now it is time to make a choice.
Will we choose to become an interconnected region, one with efficient bus routes that make sense, with light rail, and with a plan to pay for it?
The Tampa Bay area is the largest region in the nation without an effective mass transit system. Yes, we are economically strong -- but with an improved public transportation system and rail connecting the county as well as our friends across the bay, we could be even stronger.
This is not light work.
It is a challenge we accept, one we will not postpone, and one we must win in order to become a vibrant city of opportunity, with access for all who call it home.
In closing, I want to touch on a different kind of infrastructure: Our government.
I am fortunate to have inherited a committed, tenured team of professionals who deliver excellence in every capacity of the City’s work. From economic development to public works to community services, from housing to parks and recreation – wonderful work is happening at the hands of good people every day.
This effort must continue, but it must also be elevated by the addition of a shared vision that serves as a common goal; the vision of an innovative, competitive, forward-thinking community that embraces the 21st century.
In other words, I want every member of our team to always know where we’re heading and how we’ll get there.
The result will be a better quality of life for those among us who are living well – and access to an improved quality of life for those among us who are struggling, vulnerable, or voiceless.
There’s also room to modify our team’s processes to shift from a fragmented silo model of management to one that integrates departments’ functions in support of that common goal.
Our entire operational philosophy must also shift. We will be solution-oriented. No longer will ‘No’ be an acceptable first response.
No longer will we roll out the red carpet for big businesses while rolling out the red tape for small ones.
No longer will we be a small city that refuses to engage on the big issues, like climate change, gun violence, and youth incarceration.
No longer will we be afraid to take bold action or to make mistakes. We, I, will make them, and when we do we will be honest about them, we will correct them, we will learn from them, and we won’t make them again.
Of course, all of this requires not just a strong mayor, but a strong mayor’s office; the kind of structure that cities both large and small have in place.
Simply put, our City Hall has not kept up with our city. And without adjustments, our city will not be able to keep up with other cities.
With all St. Pete has to offer, the only way we lose in the pursuit of new businesses and resources is if we’re outmanned and outmaneuvered.
And knowing that you’ve entrusted me to be a good steward of your tax dollars, I am pleased that we’ve been able to grow our team while staying within the confines of our current budget.
My friends, we are truly on the cusp.
If we do these things, we will continue to emerge from the shadow of the city across the bay to become a center of commerce and a driver of economic development in our own right.
We will advance beyond our reputation for a bustling waterfront, the arts, and baseball to one that also touts world-class education and innovation in the marine sciences, health care, and clean energy.
We will become a daring city…a beacon of progress.
We will seek that mighty thread that will knit all that we are and all that we do into a united whole – a 21st century city whose fabled sunshine brightens all points of our compass; north, south, east and west.
If we do that, we will have honored our history and embraced our future.
May God bless this great city and all those who live here.