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Does St. Pete need a downtown improvement district?

Mark Parker

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While a special assessment district would support improvements throughout downtown St. Petersburg, Williams Park is the source of many concerns. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

An initiative to implement a special assessment district in downtown St. Petersburg is gaining traction. It would fund improvements and provide cleanliness and safety programs.

Jason Mathis, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, has recently ramped up efforts to gather community feedback and formulate a framework. However, he stressed at Tuesday’s Developers Council meeting that his organization is acting on behalf of residents and business owners.

Mathis said downtown stakeholders expressed concerns over increasing vagrancy issues, graffiti and safety around Williams Park. He also noted that Tampa, “and virtually every other city,” has a tool to address those challenges.

“We do think there’s a place for clean and safe programs,” Mathis said. “We do think there’s a place to help intervene with people experiencing homelessness. This is an effort to say, ‘Let’s make downtown clean and safe for everyone, regardless of your housing status.’”

He explained that a special assessment differs from a tax, which goes into a general fund and supports citywide initiatives. The Partnership proposes a $1 fee per $1,000 of taxable property value to yield about $2 million annually.

The district would extend from the waterfront east to 5th Street, between 5th Avenue North and South. Money collected would go to area improvements.

A map showing the potential district. Screengrab.

Under the Partnership’s plan, a separate not-for-profit organization would manage the funds and feature a 12 to 20-person governing board comprised of property owners. While downtowns are typically more commercial, Mathis said the district’s property value is split nearly evenly between businesses and residences.

“Most condo owners in downtown St. Pete are successful folks who understand the importance of reinvesting and maintenance,” he added. “If you look at the trajectory that some other large cities have been on over the past few years, I think there was a sense that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

“And maybe making some investments now to prevent a tent city from popping up someplace downtown makes some sense.”

Mathis elaborated that the funding could provide additional resources to help unsheltered residents receive much-needed service. He noted that many are also concerned with safety because they lack a secure place to sleep and store possessions.

Mathis said revenue could fund 24-hour security in Williams Park and the downtown waterfront’s extensive greenspaces. He also stressed that property owners and city officials ultimately decide the initiative’s fate.

He expects the city council to begin discussing the matter in the fall. Councilmember Ed Montanari agreed with that timeline.

Interest

Mathis explained that the district would encompass both sides of 5th Avenue North to include the Vinoy and adjacent condo buildings. He said the resort’s leadership and residents are “really interested” in participating.

He noted that executives with Red Apple Group – the developers behind 400 Central, which will soon become the Gulf Coast’s tallest residential building – “have been really involved this whole time.”

“Because they see Williams Park as a natural amenity for what’s going on at 400 Central, and they think this is a way to help improve that,” Mathis added. “So, they really insisted that they wanted to be a part of it.”

Jason Mathis, president of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, said the assessment would support cleanliness, safety and homelessness programs. Photo by Mark Parker.

The city’s parks department is one of the first groups the Partnership met with, and Mathis said they would continue overseeing daily operations. He said the initiative would go “above and beyond” routine upkeep, mitigate funding gaps and provide security and concierge services.

Mathis said the governing board would work closely with the Waterfront Parks Foundation, the Downtown Neighborhood Foundation and nonprofits that address homelessness. A city contract could mandate additional trash collection or event hosting, “but it’s all still to be determined.”

If the city council moves the project forward, they will notify affected property owners. Over 50% would have to agree to the special assessment.

“I think it’s a good conversation for our community to have,” Montanari said. “I think this is a great opportunity to focus on our downtown and make sure that it’s a great place for everybody to come and enjoy – both residents and visitors to our city.”

While he noted that much work remains, particularly around legalities and codified waterfront park protections, Montanari believes it’s “doable.”

Developer Mack Feldman said city officials have limited funding and many priorities, and a district hotline could provide a more responsive resource for concerned stakeholders. Mathis illustrated the need by comparing St. Petersburg’s downtown with an expensive new car.

“You get it tuned up; you get maintenance done; you get it washed all the time,” he added. “Our downtown is vibrant, dynamic and thriving. It’s really about how do we invest in our urban center to make sure it stays that way.”

The Partnership has launched a website dedicated to the initiative. Visit the link here.

 

 

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Bruce Philipoom

    July 7, 2023at4:02 pm

    Downtown property owners are already paying a huge share of St Pete taxes which are redistributed throughout the city. A better approach would be to reinvest more of the existing taxes paid by downtown residents and businesses in the downtown community.

  2. Avatar

    Bill Herrmann

    June 30, 2023at7:22 am

    I could easily write 3 pages about this. To summarize my concerns:

    -this is an assessment, not a tax. So we cannot deduct it from our income taxes.

    -there are EIGHT council members to run the City. Yet a private group needs TWENTY? Seems like government is MORE efficient.

    -How will expenditures be done? Will the 20 member board issue proper RFPs, or will contracts be given because “they know best”?

    – The idea of solving homelessness is amusing. That is something well outside the scope of local district. If the intent is to simply displace the homeless, or by them bus tickets out-of-town, that is immoral.

    -this appears to be another, albeit small, wealth transfer. One timeless rule is “he who causes the expense, pays the bill”. Yet in this case, those who live in DTSP will paying to clean up ager those who travel here to the restaurants- owned by and whose profits go to others; The Pier- owned by the City; and special events-once again something that generates an expense/profit that others benefit from.

    A better way of funding the district is to:

    1) Increase the fees for all special events based on anticipated attendance, serving of food and duration.

    2) Develop a means of requiring the restaurants to pay. The proposed plan assesses property owners- only very few restaurants are property owners.

    3) As someone who lives and walks DTSP, my non-scientific study is that the most debris comes from those leaving The Pier. It would seam that the City should be doing much, much more to clean-up the debris generated by those who visit The Pier. That should NOT be a cost placed just on those in DTSP.

    Please note, these comments reflect my individual concerns. I would welcome an opportunity for further discussion as the condition of DTSP has deteriorated since The Pier opened.

  3. Avatar

    Chris

    June 30, 2023at6:24 am

    Good idea but Mirror Lake should be included.

  4. Avatar

    Nick

    June 29, 2023at10:36 pm

    sounds like the rich don’t like looking at the homeless and want williams park for themselves.This is a crap program hidden behind a false title

  5. Avatar

    Armando Lopes

    June 29, 2023at3:49 pm

    It’s a good idea.

    I believe the boundaries should go further to M.L.K.; embrace Mirror Lake Park. Mirror Lake Park is the jewel in the rough and reminds me of Boston’s Public Gaden along Beacon St. in the city’s heart. Most of the parks in Saint Petersburg are not fully funded by the City of Saint Petersburg. The Downtown Waterfront Parks Foundation is accountable for the success and cleanliness of 11 parks. Unfortunatly, Mirror Lake Park is not one of them.

  6. Avatar

    Tara Hubbard

    June 29, 2023at12:47 pm

    Love this idea.

    As I’ve seen in other comments claiming the city should be the ones taking care of these spaces. They can’t, or maybe they won’t. As someone who actively advocates for better stewardship of our common natural spaces, the city and even the county just don’t have the resources right now. This is what they tell me point blank. Not enough money, not enough tools, not enough workers.

    This idea empowers the people to take care of their own backyard, and this feels like a more effective solution than looking to the city and county government.

    Great idea SPDID, I hope to follow suit on other areas of the St. Pete!

    Love, a fourth generation St. Pete native.

  7. Avatar

    Mirela

    June 29, 2023at7:54 am

    My vote is HUGE NO, because history shows us that this concept is not inclusive and disproportionately benefits the wealthy who want to control the “esthetic” of public places around their expensive private property. They love curated nature and security guards who keep the public from enjoying that nature. This proposal deprives the general public of enjoyment of public places and robs the City of resources.

    If people like John A Catsimatidis (Red Apple Group) want to really contribute to our city, they can pay more in taxes and let City take care of our public spaces.

    Let cities serve all their people and NOT just the wealthy developers who are obsessed with controlling who gets to walk on the sidewalk or in the park outside their fancy buildings! Cities are for the people. Not the developers.

    Vote NO on this. It’s a scam.

  8. Avatar

    Randy Weiner

    June 29, 2023at6:49 am

    Would like it to include the Mirror Lake neighborhood. It’s not safe for the homeless to sleep around the lake that’s also home to alligators.

  9. Avatar

    Mike C

    June 28, 2023at6:18 pm

    This is another tax with a fancy name. And, please do not indicate that SP aspires to be like Tampa. The SP community will laugh out loud. How is the current tax structure insufficient? Enforce laws and utilize taxes that already exist. Another path could be to allow people to donate freely, take up a fund-raising campaign, instead of the city taxing a small group of property owners more.

  10. Avatar

    KG

    June 28, 2023at5:24 pm

    How specifically will the homeless problem be addressed? I fear the boundaries of the project will not lessen the problem but only serve to push our homeless population just beyond the SPDID boundaries further flooding the Mirror Lake neighborhood with additional homeless. Mirror lake is already a bedroom for dozens of homeless who leave discarded bags, clothing, suitcases, human excrement, food and garbage strewn throughout the park and neighborhood.

  11. Avatar

    Danny E White

    June 28, 2023at5:14 pm

    “The Partnership proposes a $1 fee per $1,000 of taxable property value to yield about $2 million annually”.

    As long as the money comes from only those within the proposed district, run with it! I find it noble that the initiative considers the need to address homelessness as part of the plan. Exactly what that will look like will be interesting because where will the district relocate the people in the city? Recall that Miami’s Wynwood business district is the result of years of immigrant occupation and displacement, followed bythe impact of I-95, and followed today by ‘starving artists’ being priced out of the warehouses in the area, leaving blight in the wake. Thanks to aggressive developers, the Wynwood district supports the gentrification of the area that has pushed art galleries (historically the main tourist draw for the area), restaurants and bars out of business, save for the Rubell Family Collection (now the Rubell Museum in nearby Allapattah) that opened in 1993 and relocated in 2019. The establishment of a special district tends to serve the well-to-do who do not want certain elements in their line of sight. With this proposal, because the boundaries are, per this article, virtually 50% business and 50% residential, each ‘side’ SHOULD have equal say; however, that is not a guarantee.

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