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.
A first-ever research hub focused on the marine and defense sector along with groundbreaking discoveries at the University of South Florida are all taking shape in the Innovation Hub, largely thanks to Alison Barlow.
Barlow, Executive Director for the St. Pete Innovation District, has been instrumental in the Innovation District’s evolution. The district is a public-private partnership formed in 2016 and located in the area south of downtown.
Barlow most recently started the process of developing the Maritime and Defense Technology Hub in the district. Earlier this year, the city approved a five-year license agreement for the St. Petersburg Innovation District to take control of the former SRI International building. The waterfront facility is located at 450 8th Ave. Southeast.
Already, over a dozen companies have committed to occupy space inside the 32,386-square-foot waterfront facility, creating a 90% occupancy rate.
“We want to continue the momentum of engaging people in the district and also engaging with partners around the community,” Barlow said regarding the progress.
Barlow is a Florida native who relocated to Washington D.C. where she worked for 15 years in the business consultancy sector. She later returned to Florida and served as the operations manager and lead facilitator of Collaborative Labs at St. Petersburg College, before becoming Executive Director of the Innovation District.
“When I came down here, I had a laundry list of things I wanted to see happen,” she chuckled. “We are seeing an influx of financial and tech companies from D.C. looking to have remote offices here. We need those types of projects here. I’m excited about the equitable developments and digital focus we’ve placed thinking about opportunities for diversifying the tech workforce.”
Barlow also co-leads Digital Inclusion St. Pete, an effort co-led by the St. Pete Innovation District and Deuces Live. Through its Gadgets for Good program, it collects electronics and distributes them throughout the community so that people can access the internet and grow their skills with computers.
While a major focus in the district has been on encouraging digital literacy and growing the marine science sector as well as the Florida Flood Hub, Barlow hopes to see more recognition of the other growing tech sectors.
“For health care tech, there’s going to be more workforce-connected programs between the universities and hospitals,” she said.
Up next for the district will be enhanced placemaking.
By summer 2022, Barlow said people should see street banners indicating the location of the Innovation District.
Meanwhile, there will be crosswalks on 4th Street and some new design elements of 6th Ave. South such as an extended bike lane.
Barlow is also keeping a close eye on developments that will have a direct impact on the community.
One such project is the 50-unit affordable housing project on 5th Avenue that Volunteers of America of Florida is developing.
The project, dubbed Innovare, represents one of the first to break ground in a new round of developments funded by the Penny for Pinellas tax, which is a 1% sales tax paid by everyone who spends money within the county. The taxes are used for capital infrastructure projects.
“It’s a hard road to get access to that money,” Barlow said. “It would be great to make those funds more accessible.”
She is also keeping track of the 86-acre Tropicana Field site redevelopment.
“There was an intent for the site to include education and innovation. As we run out of places to put growing tech companies, we can help them expand or relocate to the Trop site,” she said. adding how potential changes to the surrounding Interstate system could affect access to hospitals in the district.
Another catalytic project is the Tampa Bay Innovation Center that will help entrepreneurs and boost the startup activity in the region, the first of its kind in Pinellas County. It will be located on 2.5 acres of city-donated land at 4th Street and 11th Avenue South – in the Innovation District.