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Downtown Development Summit highlights opportunities, challenges

Mark Parker

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An Aerial view of the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront. Photo: Krayer Zimring, 2024 Downtown St. Pete Development Guide.

Dozens of St. Petersburg stakeholders gathered Tuesday afternoon to celebrate recent development projects and discuss ways to foster smart growth in a rapidly evolving city.

The St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership enlisted several local and national experts to help broaden the community’s understanding of developmental opportunities and challenges at its 2024 Development Summit. The St. Pete Distillery hosted the annual event, which also highlighted the latest demographic and financial trends.

Attendees heard the importance of maintaining a sense of place, creating housing for all and building Class A office space. Jason Mathis, CEO of the Partnership, said uniting elected, business and community leaders helps establish developmental approaches that “enhance the things we love about St. Pete.”

“We need to understand what our current situation looks like, and then together, create a shared vision for our future,” Mathis added. “The Development Guide and Summit are both tools to move us forward.”

Jason Mathis, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, addresses attendees at the 2024 Development Summit. Photo: Maria Flanagan.

Mathis said he is “incredibly proud” of the 43-page guide. He credited Sarah Lindemuth, a researcher at St. Petersburg-based Meshsem, and Pyper, Inc., the Partnership’s local design partner, for collecting and presenting complex information in an easily understandable way to aid local decision-makers.

Mathis led a presentation on the importance of urban infill projects in a built-out city. He noted that higher-density developments increase the local tax base and allow city officials to reduce millage rates.

“Urban infill also creates safety with more eyes on the street, is far more environmentally friendly than single-family homes and people living in urban environments are great customers for local businesses,” Mathis said.

Panelists also highlighted the need for Class A office space. While financing those projects remains challenging due to national work-from-home trends, Wendy Giffin, executive director of Cushman & Wakefield, said St. Pete is currently in “great shape.”

She said rents have increased by 20%, and local vacancy rates remain lower than the regional average. However, she believes the Historic Gas Plant District’s redevelopment is “our highest and best opportunity for getting new office space in St. Pete.”

From right: Mayor Ken Welch, City Council Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders, City Councilmember Gina Driscoll and Christian Hardigree, regional chancellor of USF St. Petersburg, were among several local leaders to attend the summit. Photo: Maria Flanagan.

Mathis noted upcoming projects like Orange Station and the Residences at 400 Central will also provide sought-after Class A offices. He said those spaces are imperative to preventing St. Petersburg from becoming a solely residential community.

Mathis also believes the Gas Plant’s redevelopment presents the city’s best growth opportunity. He said it would create a “complete neighborhood” that combines mixed-income housing with greenspace, entertainment and retail around a new ballpark.

“This is a generational opportunity,” Mathis said. “We also need to explore using the Pinellas Trail in ways that can create community and linear neighborhoods … tying in the Warehouse Arts District and Historic Gas Plant District to downtown.”

While the summit highlighted several upscale projects, ensuring housing remains attainable for all residents was also a prominent topic. The Partnership enlisted two national experts to discuss the root cause of the affordability crisis.

The consensus was that cities and developers stopped building new homes during economic downturns. Multiple panelists believe the solution is creating additional units across income levels and revising zoning regulations.

“We’ve already started to see this in St. Pete,” Mathis said. “Our community has done a great job supporting ADUs (accessory dwelling units), removing parking requirements and allowing more density along major roads. Now, we need to implement new zoning along the SunRunner corridor.

“Adding new housing is really the most efficient and effective way to bring down housing costs and make sure that everyone who wants to live here has a safe and appropriate place to live.”

To view the Downtown St. Pete Development Guide, visit the website here.

Jason Mathis called the St. Pete Distillery a “hidden gem” that positively impacts the surrounding neighborhood. Photo: Maria Flanagan.

 

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Erik

    March 3, 2024at3:47 pm

    All talk. The so called affordable housing will be affordable housing for millionaires.

  2. Avatar

    RITA SEWELL

    February 29, 2024at5:53 pm

    A group of us living near Mirror Lake are trying to salvage this lovely place before this is also a canyon of giant buildings. Matt sees the writing on the wall and wants to run for the country before it happens. Please preserve a bit of what old Florida. Trees with shade and a lovely lake.

  3. Avatar

    Lauren Lopez

    February 29, 2024at5:07 pm

    As a 4th generation Floridian, I see the mess these people are making. And it is an outrage. I agree with Fredrick the 3rd…rich people celebrating how wonderful they are.

  4. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    February 28, 2024at8:15 pm

    If you want positive results from the Trop site, you need to have a deal that requires those outcomes. This deal does not. Counting on office development from this deal is like hitting a knuckleball. Where are the courageous leaders I once knew. Dig deep St Pete. Don’t let the Music Man sell you notes that are off key. This is a terrible deal for St Pete and a sellout to the Rays.

  5. Avatar

    Frederick the third

    February 28, 2024at7:28 pm

    I’m not trying to be mean but did that headline read to anyone else as “super rich people celebrated making even more money and want to think of ways to keep making money?”

  6. Avatar

    Steve Sullivan

    February 28, 2024at6:40 pm

    The biggest reason for increased home prices is the explosion of short term rentals alongside a surge in institutional buying of single family homes for lease and migration from the north to the south only served to exasperate the problem leading to a lower housing supply. They’ll say anything not to crap on the developer community

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