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How St. Pete College can bolster downtown

Mark Parker



St. Petersburg College's Downtown Center overlooks Williams Park. A local author and urbanist believes it could help activate the area. Photo provided.

Prominent local author Peter Kageyama, the self-proclaimed “city love guy,” believes colleges embody many municipal characteristics – they both have leadership, constituents, infrastructure and provide programming.

Kageyama, often described as an urbanist, also believes St. Petersburg College (SPC) plays a pivotal role in shaping the surrounding community. With 11 academic locations serving over 35,000 students annually, its opportunities for impact are immense.

Kageyama will deliver a presentation titled “Keeping Community in Community College” at SPC’s Downtown Center from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Thursday. The Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions, the Downtown Neighborhood Association and the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership will host the free event.

“St. Pete College is clearly the biggest player in Pinellas County,” Kageyama said. “Don’t get me wrong, USF St. Pete is a powerhouse – it’s a beautiful campus, and it’s really vibrant. But in terms of number of students and just their overall footprint, St. Pete College is all over Pinellas County.”

Founded in 1927 as St. Petersburg Junior College, the institution is Florida’s first two-year college. Its website states that SPC alumni earn the highest entry-level wage among state community college graduates.

It was also the first state college to offer bachelor’s degrees, and it now has over 200 degree, certificate and transfer programs. While SPC operates 13 facilities from Tarpon Springs to South St. Pete, Kageyama’s presentation will focus on its Downtown Center at 244 2nd Ave. N.

“St. Pete College can, and should, be considered one of the heavy hitters in downtown,” Kageyama said. “They have the opportunity to punch well above their weight in terms of their impact downtown … if we get them thinking about that.

“That’s going to be sort of my challenge to faculty, students and staff there.”

Joe Hamilton (left), publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst, and author Peter Kageyama at the 2023 Conference on World Affairs. Screengrab.

Williams Park

Opened in 1998, the Downtown Center neighbors myriad restaurants, businesses, culture and entertainment offerings. It also overlooks another St. Pete institution, Williams Park.

Named after John Constantine Williams, one of the city’s co-founders, the park officially opened at 3rd Street and 1st Ave North in 1888. The current bandshell, designed by renowned architect William B. Harvard, has served St. Pete since 1954.

However, the historic structure needs significant repairs, and the city’s oldest park is now known as a gathering place for the homeless. Many downtown stakeholders hope to revitalize the greenspace.

Kageyama believes SPC can play a vital role in those efforts. However, as a college campus, he noted that leadership and students understandably focus on what happens inside the adjacent Downtown Center.

“Of course, you want to make St. Pete College Downtown better …” Kageyama said. “But there’s a way to do that, that I think you could have a really significant impact on downtown St. Pete, as well.”

While Kageyama noted that he is “not an education guy,” he does have a specific recommendation for SPC’s leadership. He would like to see classes held in Williams Park.

Kageyama elaborated that most universities offer green space for students to congregate. In addition to periodic classes, he said students could eat, play Frisbee, sunbathe and participate in various activities.

“Could they (SPC) try to use Williams Park as their de facto quad?” Kageyama asked. “I think they could.”

Angelo was one of the few homeless people at Williams Park in January willing to talk publicly about his situation. SPC’s Downtown Center is in the background. Photo by Mark Parker.

He relayed the adage that “good activity drives out bad activities.” Kageyama said SPC students and staff could help change the park’s perception and make it a more welcoming place for the surrounding community.

Kageyama stressed that he doesn’t want to “kick the homeless out” and noted that it is not illegal for those residents to congregate in the park. However, he called it troubling for many to see that as its only use.

“The park can be there for all of us,” Kageyama added. “If we had a lot more activity – the college doing more stuff there or the church (First United Methodist) or the businesses around there using the park as their back yard – I think that would absolutely change the way people view Williams Park.”

Kageyama frequently travels the country discussing urban issues. Regardless of the area or where someone lives, he said downtowns are “everybody’s neighborhood.”

He explained that the surrounding community typically mimics a city center’s trajectory. While Kageyama said residents are lucky to have a vibrant and growing downtown, he will encourage attendees at Thursday’s event to not take that for granted.

“We need to keep that momentum going,” Kageyama said. “And that means it’s not just the city’s job to keep that going. It’s sort of collectively, all of our jobs. Especially a major institution that is right downtown, like St. Pete College.”

To register for Keeping Community in Community College, visit the website here.



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    September 26, 2023at8:26 pm

    That park is an open air drug market and a total failure of local governance. You want to talk about rights? You have a right to go to work and pay taxes and contribute to this town like everyone else. If the bum junkies in the park choose to be societal parasites smoking dope in the park all day then they should be treated as such.

  2. Avatar

    John Donovan

    September 26, 2023at3:14 pm

    Good story.

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