(Via City Of St Petersburg, Florida Communications)
St. Petersburg, FL (January 30, 2023) – At the 2023 State of the City, Mayor Kenneth T. Welch recounted some of his administration’s key accomplishments from 2022, expressed his appreciation for his City team and partnership with the Community, shared his priorities for 2023, and announced Hines & Tampa Bay Rays as his selection for the master developer of the Historic Gas Plant Redevelopment Project.
“We are guided by our overarching goal, our North Star: Progress for All,” said Mayor Welch. “I’m excited to tell you that the State of the City is strong and focused on Inclusive and Principled Progress—progress that provides opportunities for everyone to move forward, while leaving no part of our city behind.”
The State of the City program featured local students from Bay Point Elementary School, the Gibbs High School Jazz Band, the City’s Cohort of Champions, and the marching band from Mayor Welch’s alma mater, Lakewood High School. St. Pete Police and St. Pete Fire Rescue Honor Guards presented the colors. The invocation was provided by faith leaders Rev. J.C. Pritchett II from the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Florida, Imam Sadiki from St. Petersburg Islamic Center, and Rabbi Philip Weintraub from Congregation B’nai Israel. Gloria Muñoz, the City’s Poet Laureate, introduced a poem she wrote especially for the occasion entitled “Somos St. Pete.” City Council Chair Brandi Gabbard made remarks on behalf of the City Council and introduced Mayor Welch prior to him delivering his address to the audience.
THE PRINCIPLES & THE PILLARS
Mayor Welch’s Principles, also known as the “Six I’s,” have guided the mayor’s administration during his tenure: In-touch Leadership, Inclusive Governance, Informed Decision Making, Innovation, Intentional Equity and Community Impact. The Principles support the City’s five Pillars for Progress: 1) Education and Youth Opportunities; 2) Equitable Development, Arts and Business Opportunities; 3) Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods; 4) Housing Opportunities for All; and 5) Environment, Infrastructure and Resilience.
Mayor Welch continued, “My administration’s drive for progress is achieving success due to our stellar leadership team and the 3,500 talented men and women who serve the St. Pete community. The relationship building, partnership and collaboration of our City Team, along with our community, private sector and governmental partners, give us a powerful and diverse set of resources, voices and ideas to fuel our progress.”
In addition to recognizing members of his Cabinet, Mayor Welch also highlighted six employees from various City departments: Loranell “Fran” Gammage from Parks and Recreation; Theresa Jones from Community and Neighborhood Affairs; Retired Detective Anthony Peterson from the St. Pete Police Department; Michael Schlesinger from Procurement; Beatriz Zafra from Codes Compliance; and Joe Zeoli from Community Development.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS FROM 2022
The City had a record year in Construction Services and Permitting that included: $1.3B in construction value (a 30% increase from the previous FY); a record 36,814 permits issued (a 7% increase from the previous FY); a 25% reduction in building and permitting fees (2-year temporary reduction).
The long-awaited and much anticipated SunRunner, the first ever Bus-Rapid-Transit line in Tampa Bay, funded in partnership with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, Pinellas County, and the Federal Transit Administration. SunRunner provides a congestion-proof premium transportation option, and is proving to be very popular with residents and visitors.
The City implemented a $15/hour minimum wage for ALL city employees, including part-time employees.
The City negotiated successful contracts with the police and fire unions, and the Florida Public Service Union representing our blue and white collar employees.
Through the City’s capital budget, we continued our strategic investment in infrastructure, including the St. Pete Water Plan.
The City partnered with Pinellas County and the Federal Government on Rental Assistance, distributing $2.6M in assistance to 435 families, helping them stay in their homes.
Utilizing Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) and other City funds, the City contributed $35M to leverage another $216M for the construction of 697 units of affordable housing - at the 80% ami level, affordable to workers making approximately $16 an hour.
To accompany Mayor Welch’s ongoing participation in the Bloomberg Harvard Mayoral Leadership Initiative, the City has embarked on a Data initiative under this program, and received a Housing Analysis from a group of Harvard students.
PRIORITIES FOR 2023
Housing will continue to be a priority reinforced by the collaboration to support the creation of 697 affordable and workforce rental units. The City also established its first partnership with Habitat for Humanity to develop 56 affordable townhomes - providing home ownership and wealth building opportunities to residents earning 80% area median income. On 16th Street, just south of the Trop, the Shell Dash project will provide another 10 affordable home ownership opportunities.
Innovative projects planned or funded for this year include Social Service Hubs, funded by American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars, which will bring critical wraparound social, nutrition, and mental health services to areas in high need.
The City will continue with the design and implementation of a cabinet-level Equity Office, which is funded in the current budget, along with our Supplier Diversity Office and a Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise Program.
The City will strive to achieve another perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Municipal Equality Index for the 10th consecutive year. The “We” in We Are St. Pete, means all of us.
The City will begin the feasibility process for transforming the Enoch Davis Recreation Center into an Opportunity and Innovation Center – a modern hub for community education, nutrition, support, digital access and innovation, located in the South St. Pete CRA. The City recently received a $901K Community Project Funding allocation from the Federal government for this initiative, and other community center upgrades.
City leaders will continue to refine our South St. Pete CRA focus to emphasize poverty reduction and wealth building. With a focus on housing, job training, education, housing preservation, and several other essential initiatives, the CRA has become a vital resource, generating 12M for these target areas this year.
A BETTER PATH FORWARD
Said Mayor Welch, “I saw a need to build a better path forward by prioritizing the community’s need for affordable and workforce housing – both onsite and offsite. And as a child who visited many a restaurant, corner store and worked at my Grandfather’s woodyard, the opportunity for restorative economic opportunities needed to be a clearly stated priority.”
During his remarks, Mayor Welch thanked the four development teams who responded to the City’s RFP for the Historic Gas Plan District, for believing in St. Petersburg, and for investing their resources in their proposals. He is also grateful for the 2,000+ residents and stakeholders, and the multiple faith, business, and community organizations for sharing their thoughts and recommendations.
On his choice, “I am naming the partner and a concept for a project that will last over a decade and will span multiple administrations. As the plan moves forward under my administration, we will adhere to our model of inclusive governance—asking for input from all stakeholders, including the community, to ensure that we are meeting the goals of this development. I know our St. Pete community will stay engaged and informed as this project takes shape.”
Mayor Welch went on to say, “This has been a complex decision, with two particularly strong proposals from capable teams. We have received input and feedback from diverse groups and individuals, and we have received staff and consultant analyses of the strengths and weaknesses of the proposals. The process was detailed and transparent, and as your Mayor, I have done my homework. I am confident that this decision is the best path forward, and I am excited to announce that the City’s Partner for Progress in the development of the Historic Gas Plant District is Hines & Tampa Bay Rays.”
This team is the best partner for this generational endeavor, and now the next phase of work begins to bring this dream to reality for everyone in St. Petersburg.
Photo Courtesy Of Getty Images