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Five ways St. Pete’s proposed sustainability plan could impact businesses

Margie Manning

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Real estate developers and contractors, retailers and banks are among the businesses that could be impacted by St. Petersburg’s proposed Integrated Sustainability Action Plan.

The plan cleared a St. Petersburg City Council committee last week and is scheduled for review and approval by the full council on Thursday. It outlines steps the city can take to mitigate the effects of climate change and environmental challenges.

It defines a sustainable city as one that balances environmental stewardship, social equity and a thriving economy.

“This document puts equity issues right up front and center,” said City Council member Darden Rice.  “Equity is always the one thing that’s a missing piece. It’s a challenge. It has to be part of our strategy. What does it mean, how do we integrate it and see results that reflect we take this value seriously? I think this is really good first start at that.”

The final version of the technical report includes several proposals that eventually could have an effect on private enterprises. None of them are set in stone, and would require additional city council action before they are adopted.

Here are five of those ideas.

Building code. The plan suggests modification to the building code that could include more advanced energy performance requirements. A few specific ideas are included. One of them is support for developers in deploying electric vehicle infrastructure. Another is a requirement that new buildings have the ability to install solar photovoltaic panels. A third suggestion is replacing conventional HVAC units with variable speed HVAC units, which cost less, make less noise and use less electricity, according to the report.

Buy local. The city should identify more opportunities for local production, hiring, purchasing and banking, the plan says. “This plan could include provisions to require anchor institutions to purchase local products, as well as incentives for businesses that use materials produced and sold within the region,” it says. It does not define an “anchor institution.” It suggests the city lead by example by establishing procurement standards that encourage purchase of local products and services for its operations, and require local hiring for municipal positions.

Bank local. The plan suggests increasing the total funds deposited in locally owned and operated financial institutions over time. There currently are three banks headquartered in St. Petersburg — First Home Bank and Freedom Bank, which are community banks, and Raymond James Bank, which is part of Raymond James Financial (NYSE: RJF). There are no credit unions with a St. Petersburg headquarters, although there are several credit unions based in Pinellas County.

Food retailers. Poor nutrition can impact health and is most prevalent in geographically isolated and low-income communities. “One specific policy approach could be to establish incentives [such as tax incentives, zoning density bonuses, expedited permitting process, etc.] for retailers that provide healthy food options to operate in underserved areas,” the plan suggests. Those efforts would build on existing programs under the Healthy St. Pete banner.

Museums. To expand access to the arts among communities of color and low-income populations, the plan suggests increasing free and reduced admission days and times at art museums and other venues. It also addresses how artists are paid. “St. Petersburg should adopt a policy that requires a living wage for artists and prohibits providing exposure in exchange for work. This policy should include a provision that explicitly requires City agencies that are recipients of arts grants to pay artists a living wage.”

The plan also includes a timeline for potential action on each step as well as broad cost estimates.

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