We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2022 and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2022.
Copley Gerdes brought 2021 to a close by securing a victory in the St. Petersburg City Council race and becoming one of three new council members helping to shape the city in the new year.
Gerdes, the son of former Councilmember Charlie Gerdes, defeated Bobbie Shay Lee for the right to fill Robert Blackmon’s vacated District 1 seat Jan. 6. The district includes the west side of the city – an area Gerdes feels is sometimes overlooked and is primed for investment.
Gerdes, a financial planner, plans to help facilitate growth and transformation in the area in 2022, beginning with the former Raytheon Technologies property.
“I’d love to figure out the Raytheon property in 2022 and get it underway,” said Gerdes. “I think we’re close.”
Gerdes plans to work with the surrounding neighborhoods and the current owner, Les Porter, to establish a unique path forward for the property. Gerdes believes distinctive development to the site would stimulate growth and interest in other areas of the district, including the Central Avenue corridor and areas around Tyrone Boulevard.
“I think that could be the catalyst to really starting investment on the west side of St. Petersburg,” said Gerdes. “Which I know that the residents want.”
Gerdes said Porter has received some approvals for work on the property but will likely need more when he decides on a final concept. Gerdes said current plans include building workforce housing units; he added that Porter would love to build a lagoon on the site. The lagoon would feature a large swimming pool designed to look like a natural body of water, and Gerdes said it would be open to the public.
“So, he’s got some great visions for the property,” said Gerdes. “We’re trying to make sure we’re communicating with the community but also investing in the west side of St. Pete so we can get some of these areas that we know need that investment.”
Gerdes said gathering feedback from the surrounding neighborhoods the development impacts the most is crucial, including Azalea Park, Jungle Terrace, Crossroads and Jungle Prada. He explained that District 1 offers the least amount of workforce housing of any district in the city, something he wants to address. Not only will the development provide much-needed housing, but Gerdes also said it would show that local leaders are serious about moving the needle on the west side.
“It starts that momentum that … good ideas can work on the west side,” said Gerdes. “I think that’s what District 1 needs to see.
“They need to see that the city is willing and wanting to put in some work and momentum and help continue to grow District 1 just like other areas of the city … ”
District 1 is also home to the Science Center, and Gerdes said he awaits the feasibility study for the building. He said he plans to look at the study from a business standpoint as he would in his career as a financial advisor. He added that the study is essentially a business plan, and his support hinges on the cost to repair the building and the level of contribution needed from the city to ensure the center’s success.
“If that’s a feasible plan, then my plan is to continue to support it and try to move it forward,” said Gerdes. “If the feasibility study is a bad business plan, then we have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new business plan for that property.”
Gerdes said working with his colleagues to bring the city together excites him the most for 2022. He believes he is uniquely capable of bringing ideas together regardless of where they originate and hopes to provide a unifying voice in the quest to move St. Pete forward. Gerdes added that he loves Mayor-elect Ken Welch’s new hashtag, We Are St. Pete, for its message of unity.
“I think that’s exactly what we need to be looking at,” said Gerdes. “We are all here; we all love this city – that’s why we’ve chosen to live here.”
When Gerdes looks back on his first year as a council member, he hopes to see progress on the affordable housing crisis in the city. He said he is not yet sure what that will look like and will take a multipronged approach. Gerdes said part of that approach is growing wages and believes an increase in wages would inherently make housing more affordable. He also hopes affordable housing stock will increase in 2022, both from private developers and public-private partnerships.
Lastly, Gerdes said he wants to see the city lead from the front regarding racial equity and social justice in the new year. He said if the city emphasizes those issues while supporting small businesses and investing in areas of the city that need it the most, St. Petersburg will be a place where everyone can thrive in 2022.
“Kind of the ‘for all’ plan for St. Petersburg,” said Gerdes. “If we continue to move those forward, I think we would have done a good job.”