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.
Like many of his constituents, City Councilmember Ed Montanari hopes to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg and anticipates making progress toward achieving that goal in 2023.
He believes city officials are now “in a good place” with their Pinellas County counterparts and the team’s leadership regarding a new stadium. Montanari is also optimistic about the overall redevelopment of the historic Gas Plant District and what it can bring to St. Pete and its residents.
While he noted that the next steps for the two intertwined initiatives are in the hands of Mayor Ken Welch and his administration, Montanari relayed how he would rank the four proposals.
“I would put the Hines (in partnership with the Rays) proposal – for me personally – I would put them in a leading position,” said Montanari. “With Sugar Hill behind them, and the other two, I’m not too keen about.”
Montanari relayed his belief that the mayor will effectively decide what is best for the future of the former Gas Plant District and baseball in the Sunshine City. He expects stakeholders to sign agreements in 2023 and believes some initial work at the site could commence by the end of next year.
The downtown Municipal Marina, which desperately needs repairs and upgrades, is also at the top of Montanari’s priority list for the new year. He considers the facility a waterfront asset and said anything relating to the waterfront holds special meaning for the city’s residents.
“I am not a big fan of turning over control of the marina to a private company,” Montanari stated. “Especially a private company that’s not from St. Petersburg.”
City administrators decided to explore an agreement with Tennessee-based Safe Harbor Development to renovate and operate the marina in 2021. While some council members were on board with a five-year lease, a potential 25-year plan proved to be a bridge too far.
In May, the council voted 5-3 to hear more details on a potential contract and compare the cost to the city overseeing the process.
Council members expect an update on the project in early 2023, and Montanari said his preference is for city officials to build a new marina. He said the facility is in poor condition, and some portions need a complete rebuild “from the pilings on up.”
“Just like we built a new pier,” he added. “Where we control the asset, and we do the construction ourselves. We’ve got to get the marina right.”
Montanari said that if the mayor wants to issue a request for proposals (RFP), he would prefer that course of action over relinquishing the project to Safe Harbor. He noted the city-owned asset in “a beautiful location” urgently needs significant renovations either way.
The councilman, whose District 3 encompasses east-central St. Petersburg and the Snell Isle neighborhood, also hopes to strike a balance between the city’s tremendous growth and its workforce and affordable housing stock. He said ensuring a high quality of life through the many changes will be a focus in 2023.
Accomplishing that goal, Montanari explained, takes a concerted effort from local and state leadership. He believes the incoming legislature and senate president share a broad vision with city and county officials on mitigating the housing crisis, which increases his optimism for results.
He also noted the council recently formed a new Economic and Workforce Development Committee and said that would provide another avenue to address attainable housing in the coming year.
“Because a good job pays for a nice home,” explained Montanari. “You need to have all the tools in the toolbox and work on several different angles to solve these problems.”
Above all else, Montanari most looks forward to establishing a plan for the 86 acres surrounding Tropicana Field in 2023. He expressed that every city department should participate in the process to ensure the massive redevelopment serves as an economic driver for decades.
He believes St. Petersburg has slightly pulled ahead of Tampa as the best choice for a new Rays stadium, primarily due to financial leverage provided by Pinellas County’s tourism development taxes. Montanari also anticipates the project providing much-need housing options in the coming years and said city officials must carefully balance many aspects.
“If we can get that right, 2023 is going to be a very good year.”