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Cathie Wood, local leaders celebrate Innovation Center groundbreaking

Veronica Brezina

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ARK Invest CEO Cathie Wood (center), St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch (also pictured in the center) and others toss dirt at the groundbreaking of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center. Photos: Veronica Brezina.

ARK Invest CEO Cathie Wood and local leaders are fully invested in helping St. Pete become a leader in innovation. 

Wood, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, Pinellas County Economic Development Director Cynthia Johnson, other city officials and leaders from the Innovation District dug their silver shovels into the dirt Tuesday at the 2.5-acre site in St. Petersburg, commencing the start of construction for the new ARK Innovation Center. 

The ARK Innovation Center, formerly known as the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, will help entrepreneurs and boost the startup activity in the region by providing programming and co-working space. The 45,000-square-foot center will be the first of its kind in Pinellas County; it is to be constructed on city-donated land at 4th Street and 11th Avenue South. 

A rendering of Tampa Bay Innovation Center at 4th Street South and 11th Avenue South. Image: Tampa Bay Innovation Center

“Our city has grown to become an incubation center for new businesses, technology and startups – as Dr. [Cynthia] Johnson frames it- an innovation ecosystem,” Welch said. 

The center is expected to open in 2023. It will have 30,000 square feet on the first floor for incubator companies and another floor designated for ARK Invest – the anchor tenant. 

“I think St. Petersburg understands, better than Silicon Valley, the promise out there as a result of the new technologies that are evolving,” Wood said during the event. “I have a sense that St. Pete is ready to catch this ball because you are hungry. We chose St. Pete among all other cities because we saw the innovative spirit. There’s innovation DNA, I don’t know how you got it, but it’s here and we know it.”

ARK Invest CEO Cathie Wood (center) and the ARK team members participate in the ceremonial dirt toss. 

Wood said she wasn’t familiar with the Tampa Bay Innovation Center project when she decided to relocate ARK Invest’s headquarters from New York to St. Pete in 2021, but her team soon started having conversations with TBIC CEO and President Tonya Elmore.  

Wood paid $2 million for the naming rights of the center and to serve as the anchor tenant. The entire project is estimated to cost over $15.8 million. 

Wood continued to say that innovation in the public equity market is currently valued at $10 trillion and is projected to grow even higher. 

“I see here an openness to this idea of convergence, not silos, but working together- we are talking about private-public partnerships. That type of collaboration is going to be absolutely essential to capitalize on these major platforms,” she said, providing an example of genomic sequencing and how it’s revolutionizing the health-tech space. 

“We are looking forward to helping you attract companies here and sharing our research,” she said. “I have a powerful feeling St. Pete is going to become a beacon of innovation.” 

The ARK Innovation Center will be catered toward serving St. Pete’s targeted industries: Fintech, advanced manufacturing, medical devices and IT. 

During a recent public meeting, officials said the offices in the center will be marketed at Class A rates; however, there could be potential for subsidizing and that entrepreneurs can still attend programs without needing to rent space. 

The U.S. Economic Development Administration has committed to providing the majority of funds for the center. 

Welch said the center will generate an estimated $28 million in economic impact from the 1,265 direct and indirect jobs it will create. Additionally, the graduates of the programs at the innovation center and its clients will create an annual economic impact of $127 million. 

The new innovation center is one piece of the overall Innovation District that is rapidly gaining more attention – and recent wins, on which Welch elaborated, such as the opening of the Maritime Defense and Technology Hub.

The hub – the first-ever of its kind in Tampa Bay – started welcoming tenants in late 2021 inside the former SRI International building. The facility was created to have spaces for companies seeking a waterfront location to deploy vessels and have a hyper-secured site for highly-classified operations.

Welch also highlighted how the University of South Florida will launch a new Center of Excellence in Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences on the St. Petersburg campus, which will make St. Pete the leader in coastal resiliency and sustainability.  

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    John Donovan

    February 15, 2022at9:17 pm

    Hail to the business owners and entrepreneurs; present and future.

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