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St. Petersburg Mayor: 'Height And Density' Are Solutions To Growth

Feb 23, 2019

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman left several controversial issues out of his State of the City address over the weekend at Palladium Theater.

First, he made no mention of his decision on Friday to remove five of the seven appointed commissioners in charge of the from the city's Housing Authority. The decision followed complaints about the board's lax oversight of the agency's director, Tony Love. The Tampa Bay Times reported that the board approved a salary increase for Love without seeing his performance reviews.

Also, Kriseman only briefly mentioned the potential move of the Tampa Bay Rays in his remarks, encouraging residents to leave suggestions on the city's Vision 2050 website on ways to improve St. Petersburg. 

Instead, Kriseman focused on three issues residents have expressed concern over for months: Development, the environment, and criminal justice reform.

DEVELOPMENT

Krisman mentioned the newly rebuilt police headquarters, and soon-to-be unveiled projects at The Pier. He reported an increase in median income over the last three years, a decrease in unemployment, and higher property values in south St. Petersburg: $260 million in four years.

The economic growth the city has seen over the years is directly tied to population growth, he said. 

"In a built-out city like St. Pete, height and density are the only options on the table when it comes to growth," Kriseman said. 

The rapid introduction of high-rise development isn't being embraced city wide. Before Kriseman's speech, a protester stood in front of the theater holding a sign saying, "Stop The Squeeze." 

Thirty-year resident Eleanor Brooks said she applauds efforts to increase the local economy and job growth, but worries about low-income residents. 

"I think redevelopment is great. But I just hate that sometimes I think that our low-income population is getting left behind,"  said Brooks , who works with low-income residents, the elderly and youth at Pinellas Opportunity Council. 

Councilwoman Gina Griscoll said affordable housing is a top concern for the council as well.

"St. Petersburg is becoming so popular, and of course when you're in demand, the prices tend to go up," she said. "We have to balance that by welcoming growth and also making sure there are affordable places for everyone in St. Petersburg to live." 

INFRASTRUCTURE

Some residents also are concerned that the population growth will exhasterbate the city's aging infrastructure, including the beleagured sewer system that has flushed raw sewage into Tampa Bay during massive rains.

"I want to dispel the myth that our growth is a burden on our infrastructure," Kriseman said. "The truth is, our sewer system can handle more growth. What has challenged us in the past is not toilets flushing, but rainwater entering our aging, pervious sewage pipes and overwhleming our system."

He said the city has spent almost $200 million in four years to fix problems with rainwater flow. Krisman reports the city has lined or replaced 12,000 feet of stormwater pipes and few hundred thousand linear feet of sewer pipes.

ENVIRONMENT

In addition to aging water pipes, some residents are concerned about the city's envrionmental initiatives maintaining green spaces amid development.

"When people admire the ciy's efforts to go green, it has nothing to do with benches," he said refering to the city's green park benches used to promote the city after World War II. "Those days are done."

One project includes Storefront Conservation Corridor, which would have spaces for businesses, pedestrians and conserve land along Beach Drive and Central Avenue. Another plan includes a public campground at Boyd Hill.

Other projects include improving public parks and adding bike lanes. The city has been recognized nationally for its efforts to limit greenhouse gases.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Kriseman praised a program to assist young people charged with their first misdemeanor called Second Chance. 

"I wish we had the power to do even more as it relates to criminal justice," Kriseman said. 

He pointed to the county's Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion Program as one way the administration is working to address incarceration.

The state recently approved an amendment to restore voting rights to ex-felons. Kriseman counted the approval a success. 

"The more people voting, the more people engaging in our democracy and in our government, the better," he said. 

Reportedly more than 1 million Floridians with past felony convictions will be able to vote.

"We will not leave public safety and poverty and sewer pipes and the pier to the next people," Kriseman closed. "These are our issues to solve."