We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2023 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 2023.
Christie Bruner has made a name for herself in the city by serving as the youth wellness director for St. Pete Run Fest, and implementing programs at Healthy St. Pete, to her current role as the VP of advocacy at the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Many businesspeople may not know all of the opportunities they can partake in and have a voice as we approach issues like housing and transportation. We, as an entity, consolidate our ideas and present them [to stakeholders/officials],” Bruner said.
Within the Chamber’s advocacy realm, it has a public policy council as well as committees such as the housing and land use development (HLUD) committee, and a transportation committee among others.
In 2023, the Chamber will present its housing report to the city.
“We’ve held meetings with the public and worked with chamber members who are experts in this area and others to define what we’ve seen in terms of employment, housing interests, and rentals versus homeownership. We have recommendations on how we can improve access from neighborhoods to employers and reduce landowner costs to keep rents affordable,” Bruner said.
The dire need for more affordable and workforce housing is highlighted in the report.
An example of a successful affordable housing project that broke the mold on the traditional perspective of building affordable and workforce housing is the SkyWay Lofts community in the Skyway Marina District. The project, a 65-unit community developed by Blue Sky Communities, was commended by officials for delivering a more upscale product with high-end amenities not typically found in these types of developments.
The project was made possible by Florida Housing Finance Corp. housing credits, a loan from the City of St. Petersburg, over $700,000 of the county’s Penny for Pinellas funds and other sources.
Bruner said this development strategy could be duplicated and deployed elsewhere in the city.
Also, in January, the Chamber will launch an education task force that’s focused on connecting employers to educational institutions and workforce development programs to grow local talent, especially within the city’s Innovation District.
“The Austin Chamber of Commerce inspired us. They have been successful in connecting current employers with up-and-coming employees and we plan to learn more about their program,” Bruner said.
The Chamber, its members, several city council members and potentially Mayor Ken Welch – roughly 55 people in total – will travel to Austin in April.
“People say Austin is like a big St. Pete and we want to discover that comparison,” Bruner said.
She said the two chambers have communicated in the past, and Austin chamber members were surprised by St. Pete’s growing small business sector and learning about the different culture between Tampa and St. Petersburg.
On the transportation forefront, the Chamber has scheduled a visit to Orlando with stakeholders to see the progress of the Brightline train station and intercity transit line that will eventually link to Tampa. The Chamber intends to speak on the benefits of having a presence in St. Petersburg, as it’s also a booming metro area seeking viable transportation options.
The Chamber is also planning to take another trip outside of the ‘Burg to Fort Myers.
“The goal is to listen to the lessons learned from the business community pre- and post-Hurricane Ian regarding the area’s infrastructure, proactive and reactive sustainability tactics and resiliency efforts,” she said.
Additionally, the Chamber has other subjects on its radar for 2023 such as the redevelopment of Tropicana Field/the Gas Plant District.
“This is something we’ve had multiple discussions on with members, including speaking with Brian Caper [economic and workforce development director at the city], and the mayor’s office that wants to hear the business community’s input,” Bruner said, stating the chamber is encouraging its members to attend the city’s meeting Jan. 4 at the Coliseum, inviting the community to share feedback on the four proposals submitted.