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Catalyze 2024: City Administrator Rob Gerdes

Mark Parker

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We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about the upcoming new year 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 2024.

While he typically shuns the spotlight, City Administrator Rob Gerdes’ fingerprints are all over St. Petersburg.

His municipal impact will only increase in the new year as he works to create jobs, increase attainable housing options and mitigate the effects of sea level rise. Those efforts will begin in January as he has announced the launch of a new initiative.

Gerdes said the Mayor’s Future Ready Academy is an 18-week job training program that provides full-time pay and employee benefits. Participants can also receive additional education at Pinellas Technical College.

“This is a brand-new, innovative program that we’re really excited about,” Gerdes said. “Hopefully, we’ll hire some of these trainees into the city on a full-time basis. That’s one unique program on the workforce front – but it’s going to be bigger than that.”

Mayor Ken Welch, Pinellas County officials and the Tampa Bay Rays/Hines development team have repeatedly credited Gerdes for his work negotiating the Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment’s terms. Gerdes said the academy correlates with the $6.5 billion project.

City and Rays/Hines officials have set a 30% small, minority and women-owned business goal for the Gas Plant’s redevelopment. Gerdes expressed his excitement for the economic opportunities provided by the 20-year project.

“It could potentially be $500 million to $1 billion in business,” he added. “I really think, in many ways, small business drives our economy in St. Pete and the quality of life we enjoy.”

Gerdes also eagerly anticipates strengthening strategic partnerships in 2024. He said Welch proved that “one plus one can equal three.”

Gerdes expects that equation to include Dr. Kanika Tomalin, CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, in the new year. Gerdes also hopes to collaborate with Christian Hardigree, regional chancellor of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, and Alison Barlow, executive director of the St. Petersburg Innovation District.

“Just some really good leadership that we have in our community,” Gerdes said. “And we’re going to be working towards partnering with those groups and others to try and maximize what we’re doing as a city. I think that’s something to keep an eye on in 2024.”

He said city officials will devote more attention to environmental resiliency and sea level rise in the new year. A recent winter storm flooded Shore Acres residents still recovering from Hurricane Idalia.

Gerdes said the effects of a changing climate are now a reality highlighted by frequent “sunny-day flooding.” He plans to explore short and long-term solutions for low-lying areas in 2024.

City officials will maintain their focus on housing affordability. “I think we built a good foundation in that area,” Gerdes said. “But we have to keep the gas pedal down.”

He said the mayoral administration is now prioritizing attainable homeownership opportunities over rentals. Namaste’s 16th Square Townhomes is the first public-private project to open, and Gerdes said several other properties are under development through Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties.

“I’m really excited that we were able to acquire the St. Pete College property in the last year,” he added. “Trying to provide more, denser opportunities on the homeownership side is something that we hope comes to fruition this year.”

Despite some success, Gerdes said administrators whiffed on significant grant opportunities in 2023. Specifically, transportation funding for the 22nd St. South (the Deuces) corridor.

He believes internal changes, including a “fantastic” new team, will bolster outside funding efforts in 2024. “Hitting on one of those really big, transformative grants in the new year is something that I’d like to see us do,” Gerdes said.

His primary mission, however, is ensuring basic governmental services. Gerdes said the goal is to provide good value for tax dollars and then look for quality-of-life improvements.

Gerdes called working with the city’s team an honor. He said impacting the community and watching ideas become reality is worth more than praise.

The interview concluded with a message to residents: “We want to participate in helping you live, work and play and enjoy St. Petersburg – and to be a partner with you,” Gerdes said.

“We’re open and responsive to your ideas. We look forward to working together this new year to continue making St. Petersburg a great place.”

 

 

 

 

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