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County, St. Petersburg Foundation partner to transform Lealman Exchange

Mark Parker



Pinellas County Commissioners unanimously approved the St. Petersburg Foundation for the operation and management of the Lealman Exchange (pictured) during Tuesday's board meeting. File photo.

The Lealman Exchange, a 77,000 square-foot, six-acre campus built to provide programs and services to meet the needs of an underserved community, is now under new management thanks to an innovative public-private partnership.

During Tuesday’s board meeting, Pinellas County Commissioners heard recommendations from administrators that the St. Petersburg Foundation assume daily operations of the county-owned hub to bolster the resources it offers to the community.

The St. Petersburg Foundation (SPF) is the philanthropic arm of the St. Petersburg Group (SPG), which owns the St. Pete Catalyst.

Christopher Moore, assistant to the county administrator for unincorporated Lealman, began the presentation by explaining the county’s redevelopment plan, addressing blight conditions in the area through nine primary objectives. Unmet needs include economic development and innovation; branding, marketing and promotion; jobs skills and employment assistance; and funding, financing and management – all of which he believes SPF can achieve at the Lealman Exchange.

“This is an effort to sort of maximize that public-private partnership,” said Moore.

“They (SPF) have a lot of relationships with other nonprofits in the area, and we think the strengths that they bring and the connections to the private sector … allow an ability to manage the facility in a way that we’re not currently capable of doing.”

The partnership’s goal is to help the Lealman Exchange reach its full potential. The county acquired the former charter school adjacent to Raymond H. Neri Park in 2018 and repurposed it into a community center. The complex, located at 5175 45th St. N., consists of three buildings with just 60% occupancy.

Constructed in 2014, the two-story Building A houses the anchor tenant of the facility – the YMCA Early Learning Center. The YMCA and CareerSource Pinellas occupy the first floor, and most of the unleased space at the facility is on the second floor. The building also serves as a storm shelter supported by a large generator.

Building B houses a gymnasium primarily used by the YMCA for senior-oriented fitness programs, and a special needs school and counseling agency occupies the entirety of Building C.

“The bottom line is, we’ve established a strong baseline of partners at the facility,” said Moore.

Moore explained the strategic plan for the exchange calls for a collective impact model. He called it a structured, systematic way for service providers to collaborate across multiple sectors. Nonprofits will utilize shared agendas that focus on common goals in Lealman rather than an organization’s individual mission statement. Partners will also share data and metrics, and a backbone organization – SPF – will administer the collective impact model.

Moore relayed that an upgraded community and recreation center, along with a better sense of community identity, top the list of desires for residents of Lealman.

“A place to congregate and celebrate,” said Moore. “Family-fun type of events.”

Commissioner Dave Eggers questioned what value the public-private partnership provides that the county could not achieve alone. Moore noted SPF’s extensive community partnerships and the lack of full-time county employees dedicated to the facility. He added the agreement provides flexibility to maximize the exchange’s impact on Lealman.

“We think it’s a model that in the long-term can really get the private sector engaged from a fundraising perspective,” said Moore. “This is our way to invest in residents and provide the services they need to help alleviate some of the challenges they may face.”

Commission Chair Charlie Justice called the St. Petersburg Foundation’s connections to the community and private donors “nothing short of remarkable.” Screengrab.

Commissioner Pat Gerard told her colleagues the partnership’s intention is not to save the county money. She said the goal is to utilize a community asset to advance the residents of Lealman. She stated the county has never desired to hire more staff and manage the facility, and the partnership is a natural next step for the facility.

Commission Chair Charlie Justice said the partnership provided an opportunity to connect with community organizations and establish a community identity for the center.

“I hope you had a chance to take a look at some of the folks who are engaged with this foundation, with this group,” said Justice. “Because we couldn’t afford to hire these people, quite frankly, to be a part of this organization and a part of this effort.”

SPF’s team for the project includes Community Foundation Tampa Bay, which pledged $210,000 to fund a needs navigator position for three years; Social Venture Partners of Tampa Bay, a network of philanthropists, volunteers and community leaders; the St. Petersburg Group, a consulting firm that supports public-private partnerships; the Catalyst; and the CapEx Advisory Group, a consulting firm that guides the vision, financing and development of complex capital projects.

“So, the resources that this organization brings in human capital – not only the staffing model that we’re talking about,” said Justice. “But the connections to the community, connections of their foundations, connections to private donors – is nothing short of remarkable.”

Under the lease and managerial agreement, the county remains responsible for maintaining and repairing all structural components of the facility. SPF assumes responsibility for facility operations, repair and maintenance expenses. The county authorizes SPF to manage and supervise the campus under agreement guidelines.

The foundation must submit an annual business plan for approval and is subject to a yearly performance review. SPF must also set up a separate Lealman Exchange bank account, subject to annual audits. The county and SPF will split half of the net operating income generated from facility operations, with 50% remaining in the account to support program needs and capital projects.

County commissioners unanimously approved the resolution for SPF to manage and operate the Lealman Exchange.


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