We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2021, and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live in what will surely be a changed – and charged – post-Covid world. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2021.
Between the Covid-19 pandemic and issues surrounding systemic racism, 2020 presented more than its share of difficult and painful moments. While many of us would like to forget the events of the last 12 months as we move into 2021, Jason Mathis has a different view.
“Challenges can be deeply revelatory for people and for places going through a difficult experience,” said Mathis, the CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership. “They can take away the facade and you’re left with a core of what people really are.”
And at the core of St. Pete is a level of decency and humility that you don’t find just anywhere, Mathis said, and the challenges of 2020 have underscored that St. Pete is a truly special place to live and work.
For example, when the city mandated mask wearing and social distancing, both individuals and businesses stepped up to follow the rules, Mathis said. When the death of George Floyd brought issues of racial injustice to the forefront of the national conversation, the community listened and made a commitment to addressing systemic racial inequity.
“It’s been a tough year but some of our strengths have really come to shine through the adversity we’ve faced,” he said.
Looking ahead to 2021, Mathis said one of his main goals is adapting to the post-Covid world, and that means being flexible and realistic about the profound ways the pandemic has altered the way we live. While the health component will fade with the introduction of the new vaccines, he predicts the societal changes will stay with us for a long time.
“How our community responds to that is going to be important in terms of setting a trajectory for the next chapter of St. Pete,” he said.
For Mathis and the Downtown Partnership, that chapter is a thick one. One priority for 2021 is exploring the relationship between higher education and economic growth and helping create connections that will align workforce training to the needs of local businesses. Another centers around developing high-impact workspaces that encourage collaboration and innovation to support economic growth.
But that’s not all. In October, the Downtown Partnership, in conjunction with the Arts Alliance and the City of St. Petersburg, launched a Comprehensive Arts Strategy, a planning initiative aimed at developing tangible recommendations to build on the city’s existing arts infrastructure to create economic growth across the community. Mathis said a study will be released in the first quarter of 2021 that will document where St. Pete stands as a city of the arts and will make recommendations to leverage the city’s strength and build on its existing foundation.
Finally, the Downtown Partnership will continue to play a constructive role in “transformational projects” such as the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site.
“There are so many opportunities for the city to grow and we want to make sure it grows in ways that preserve the authentic nature of what St. Pete is,” Mathis said. “And we want to do it in ways that are sustainable economically and environmentally.”