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Catalyze 2024: Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton

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.

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton had a momentous year; negotiating a $1.3 billion stadium agreement and establishing a plan to relocate government headquarters are among the many highlights.

Many of his hopes for 2024 began in 2023. The county commission has set project guidelines, and Burton said it is now time for him and his staff to deliver.

“There’s a lot of continuation from last year,” Burton said. “These are things that don’t occur every day, and we have to make sure we get them right and do it well.”

Burton has spent most of the year negotiating a deal to build what is now Tropicana Field’s replacement. The county will contribute $312.5 million in bed taxes designated for tourism uses toward the generational project.

County commissioners, St. Petersburg’s mayoral administration and the Tampa Bay Rays/Hines development team have repeatedly lauded Burton for his work throughout the process. However, he noted much work remains before the public-private partners sign final agreements in March.

“We’ve got a general framework; we’ve got a lot of momentum,” Burton said. “But it is not across the finish line, and a lot of details need to be worked out.”

That same sentiment applies to relocating county government headquarters. The ambitious $263 million to $334 million project would move the county seat to a more centrally located area in downtown Clearwater.

In November, commissioners approved purchasing a 21-acre site at 13600 Icot Blvd. for $33 million. The current facility has several issues, and Burton said the new headquarters could provide an “economic development boon for downtown Clearwater” and increase a “very underutilized tax base.”

Burton became county administrator in 2018. The pandemic ensued less than a year later, and he noted the challenges brought by completing critical infrastructure upgrades, increasing sheriff’s office wages and reducing property taxes amid soaring costs.

“This year, we really focused on getting caught up on this hyperinflation … along with getting some of these bigger projects in the planning stages,” Burton explained. “Now, it’s going to be focused on delivering the things that we’ve said … in the most cost-effective way possible.”

Burton also hopes to foster regionalism between Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco County Commissioners in 2024. The respective leaders met twice in 2023, and he believes “there’s a lot more we can do.”

Burton said a Dec. 21 dinner with area administrators served as a year-end celebration of the collaborative progress made in 2023. He explained the benefits of entire commissions coming together instead of individual members on a regional board.

“Each county can keep their own identity and priorities,” Burton said. “But on things that are regionally significant, where there’s agreement, it’s great to be able to come together and work on those issues. We’re on a good path.”

Many of his goals for 2024 will likely remain out of the public consciousness. Burton noted commissioners challenged administrators to bolster mental health services in the new year.

The county will launch a new Behavioral Health Coordinated Access Model with care providers and mental wellness stakeholders this spring. Burton said residents would soon receive “one-stop services for triage, assessment and appointments,” based on their needs.

He said increasing permitting efficiencies is another ongoing initiative. Burton also realizes much of his work will remain behind the scenes, where he is most comfortable.

“It’s not our job to get recognition,” Burton said of administrators. “Our job is to get things done.”

He noted residents elected “forward thinking” commissioners who “care deeply about the community” to set strategic goals. Burton said his job is to present them with options.

Burton moved to Pinellas County from Chicago and said he and his wife consider this area “paradise.” He also expressed gratitude for a job that allows him to make a difference in the community.

“Roads aren’t the sexiest thing to work on,” Burton added. “But if people had potholes all around, we’d hear about it. We’re working on making those things that are part of our daily lives a little bit better.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment

1 Comment

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    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    January 1, 2024at8:04 pm

    Find a way to help $12.00 and hour workers to remain in the City. In addition, the waiters and any others that make less than $12.00. We need our Service Workers but rent is running them out of town.

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