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Commerce Park takes shape in south St. Petersburg

Margie Manning

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Tom Callahan (lef), CEO of EMP Industries, breaks ground on the new facility at Commerce Park with Bob Berry, general manager, Marinetek

More than a decade after city leaders began to develop a vision for long-neglected neighborhood in south St. Petersburg, work is moving forward on bringing commercial and industrial companies to the area.

Mayor Rick Kriseman joined business leaders in cutting the ribbon Tuesday afternoon for EMP Industries, a marine manufacturing company that expects to create a marine industry cluster of companies at the site, creating 65 jobs initially, with more expected as the companies grow.

Two days earlier, city officials broke ground for Euro Cycles of Tampa Bay, a motorcycle sales and repair company.

The projects mark significant progress in the Deuces and Warehouse Arts District master plan, which is a key component of the city’s 30-year South St. Pete Community Redevelopment Area plan, officials said.

“It’s been a promise to the community for a very long time,” Kriseman said.

Commerce Park is a 14-acre area west of 22nd Street South to 26th Street South, from about 6th Avenue South to the boundary of Interstate 275, within the thriving Warehouse Arts District and across 22nd Street South from the Manhattan Casino, now home to Callaloo, a popular restaurant operated by a company in which former Bucs player Vincent Jackson is a partner.

It’s part of the Dome Industrial Park area, declared blighted in 2005. The city began buying up homes in Commerce Park in 2007 and 2008, with the intent of assembling land to provide large tracts for manufacturing and other employment-generating activities.

The City Council approved development agreements with EMP and Euro Cycles in 2016.

Key provisions of the development deal include Small Business Enterprise requirements for construction and incentives for job creation for local residents. At least 17 of the 65 jobs will go to people who live in the South St. Pete CRA.

“If we are going to lift people out of poverty, this is how you do it. It’s a real job that pays a real wage,” Kriseman said. “We’ve not only got a guarantee of the jobs that will be created on the day they open, but we’ve incentivized these guys to create a whole lot more jobs after they open and hire from the community. And if they do that, and they hire enough, they can get the land for free.”

EMP is building a total of 60,000 square feet, housing four or five companies that primarily are involved in marina construction, said Tom Callahan, CEO.

“We’re all small growing companies. Typically industrial companies now are looking in these big industrial parks, like up near Gateway. As smaller companies, we like an urban feeling. All the companies that are coming here, the leadership of those companies like to have employees who live locally. Some of them walk to work or ride a bike. All the managers of the companies live around St. Pete and they don’t want to drive 20 or 30 miles,” Callahan said. “The opportunity my company had and the other companies coming in here collided and meshed with what the city was looking for, so it was a marriage made in heaven.”

Rendering of the Marinetek facility in Commerce Park

One of the companies that will be onsite is Marinetek, which designs and builds floating concrete docks, floating concrete breakwaters and wave attenuating systems, said Bob Berry, general manager.

“We have a small factory here in St. Pete now, but we’ve outgrown it and it’s outdoors and in this brutal heat and the rain all summer, it’s a tough environment,” Berry said. “We’re building a real facility here. It will be under roof so we can get out of these harsh elements. It’s hard on the people and it’s actually hard on the concrete products. It will be much better in a controlled environment.”

Marinetek has about 18 people on staff now, and Berry expects that will grow by at least 20 percent in the new facility.

EMT will build three buildings, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce said.

The first building, at 7th Avenue South and 25th St. South, was the site of Tuesday’s groundbreaking. Construction will start in a couple of months, and it’s expected to be open in May 2019, Callahan said.

The Commerce Park project is a good fit with the city’s Grow Smarter economic development strategy, with five target industries including advanced manufacturing, Kriseman said.

“It’s cool that we’re going to have that here, in this part of town. That’s what we want. We want to see activity happening south of Central and particularly this corridor,” he said.

 

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