Any successful city must have great jobs and a vibrant economy
St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog.
This is the fifth of an eight-part series detailing the Rick Baker Blueprint for St. Petersburg.
From the Rick Baker BLUEPRINT for St. Pete
For more than eight years as Mayor, Rick Baker worked to transform St. Petersburg into a modern, prosperous, safe, neighborhood- friendly and seamless city. From jobs and economic empowerment, to schools, neighborhoods, the arts, our environment, and public safety, this “blueprint” will guide Rick Baker’s efforts to restore competence, commitment and honesty to City Hall.
Any successful city must have great jobs and a vibrant economy so all residents can earn the type of living that provides the greatest opportunity for themselves and their children. That is why I want St Pete to once again become a dynamic leader on this front, leaving no one behind.
- While a major retail center, many don’t know the products and services that are available downtown. I will develop a program for more and better promotions and communication. As mayor I will redouble stalled efforts to bring major company headquarters to St. Petersburg. That means jobs, customers and revenue.
- We will more aggressively support all downtown districts and main street programs.
- I will complete the pedestrian connector, monument signage, and branding efforts on an expedited basis (five years in process so far).
- I will complete the pedestrian connector, monument signage, and branding effort on an expedited basis (over two years in process so far).
- I will immediately work with retailers to address the parking challenges that hinder businesses here. Driving around the block looking for parking is not a viable option. The solutions must also work for taxpayers.
- Like many citizens I believe the Pier was, and should again become, an icon of our city. I constantly hear from residents that they felt betrayed when the current mayor ignored the outcome of a promised public vote favoring local architects that proposed keeping elements of the past with a look to the future. Going forward as mayor I will immediately address the following:
- Seek out ways to address the massive multi-million dollar overspending, far in excess of the original Pier budget. I am also concerned by the large increase in the annual operating subsidy planned by the current mayor and will work with others to get that back to a more manageable subsidy. The effort is made more challenging by the current mayor’s attempt to lock in the overspending through commitments being made now.
- Stop the current administration’s plan to build two concrete buildings on our historic waterfront parkland. This effort is a betrayal of our founders’ stewardship of the precious waterfront parkland – and more importantly it is a theft of our future generations’ public land. My alternate vision is a plan for green space and signature playground/water features/picnic pavilions at Spa Beach similar to the features we built at Dell Holmes Park, which draws thousands of children and adults from throughout the city. This will immediately return the long-sought vitality to the pier. Also, explore ways to modify the Pier head building to make it less nondescript and more iconic. I will reach out to a variety of local architects for creative ideas – our community deserves more than Rick Kriseman has settled for.
- While modifying the approach, stay on schedule for completion. The project is already two years past the time the current mayor promised completion – no more delays!
- Make no mistake the biggest project we as a city will likely undertake in the next 10 years is the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site. It is imperative that we have the best and most creative business, design, and economic development people focused on this, and that citizens be given a real seat at the table. It is also critical that we have a mayor who has the experience, negotiating skill and capability to seize on the opportunities for our city.
- Let me be very clear: my first goal is to retain the Rays in St. Petersburg, even though the current mayor has given up our rights and allowed the team a chance to look elsewhere – making retaining the team much, much harder. It was a horrible deal for our city! Yet any stadium solution must not increase our taxes. To that end, I will work with City Council and the Pinellas County Commission to aggressively pursue this. Baseball has a long history here and we will do whatever we can to extend this tradition. A redeveloped downtown Rays site should include housing, business and retail components, along with expanded green space.
- If the Rays do not stay downtown, we will develop a plan for the Trop site that includes areas for business/employment locations, supporting retail, hotel and housing (especially workforce housing). A significant portion – at least one third – of the site should be dedicated to public green space. As a portion of the green space we will aggressively consider the development of a lake – tied to our existing storm water creek – with surrounding park – think Mirror Lake with more green space. Finally, the people of Midtown who originally gave up much for this site must be included in the discussion – and in the end of the day there must be a benefit to both the city and the Midtown community – especially the reality of long-promised jobs for the community.
- Continuously look for opportunities to expand the downtown event experiences, and actively support the ones we have, such as the Grand Prix, St. Petersburg Bowl, First Night, Friday Night Shuffle and Saturday Morning Market that began during my prior term, and the Rowdies MLS effort that I led after leaving office. Brand the “St. Petersburg” name whenever possible!
- Explore opportunities to expand conference or convention space downtown in association with the growing downtown tourism and hospitality industry.
- We started the downtown pedestrian connector program and plan to expand it, especially into blossoming areas like Central Avenue, Edge District, Grand Central, Warehouse Arts District, Innovation District and 4thStreet Intown.
- The approach to the homeless population must be more than simply pushing them from one area of the city to another. There continues to be a need for transitional housing that gives homeless individuals the opportunity to stabilize and work toward becoming independent. During our term we partnered with Catholic Charities to create Pinellas Hope in mid-county, a facility where over 350 homeless individuals will sleep tonight, providing them with a safe place to get off the street and work toward a point where they can support themselves. More needs to be done in this area – especially with regard to emergency housing for homeless parents with children, a situation that is at a crisis point in our county. As before, we will focus both on keeping a positive environment in our city, developing more opportunities to help the individual in need and partnering whenever possible.
- Everyone loves walking along the sidewalk cafes of Beach Drive in our Downtown. I will work to extend the walkway all the way to the Dali Museum! Our downtown waterfront is one of the best and now we have a chance to make it even better.
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Disclosures: Contributor to Rick Baker for Mayor Campaign
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