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Chamber to investigate St. Pete’s similarities to Austin

Veronica Brezina

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Austin, Texas. Unsplash photo by Mitchell Kmetz.

When ARK Invest founder and CEO Cathie Wood visited St. Petersburg in 2021, she said the city mirrored the same business environment and sense of welcome as Austin, Texas. 

Austin has long been an aspirational peer for St Petersburg, and according to Wood and other execs, the gap is closing. 

Hunter Abramson, CEO of Relic Tickets, a blockchain based smart ticketing system, was initially “completely sold” moving the HQ to Miami or Austin – two well-known startup hubs.

However, after Tampa Bay Tech and the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp. facilitated a showcase of the region and meetings with local business leaders, Abramson selected St. Pete, citing attributes such as its robust and diverse talent pipeline, quality of life, walkability, weather, business benefits and proximity to Tampa International Airport.

Next week, St Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce members will head to Austin to benchmark the city. 

“We have been planning this trip for years and now the timing is better than ever,” Chamber CEO and President Chris Steinocher said about the upcoming two-day-long sojourn. “We are going to meet economic development partners at the Austin Chamber of Commerce and government officials to see how Austin has managed the growth of industries and is facing issues in transportation and housing.”

The city of Austin, which calls itself “The Live Music Capital of the World,” has a diverse population mix of musicians, artists, college students, government employees and those in the tech space. 

Austin is widely known as an innovation hub, attracting some of the world’s leading tech firms such as Dell, IBM, Apple and Amazon, all of which have established offices or campuses in the city. 

“Executives are saying we have similar energies and critical mass with entrepreneurs. Austin started its growth in the music industry and evolved into the innovative tech sector. Likewise, St. Pete’s culture started with a focus on artists, which we still have, and now we are growing in the technology space,” Steinocher said, adding that both cities roll out a welcome mat for all walks of life, including the LGBTQ+ community. 

“Inclusivity is a theme in Austin, and is obviously where these businesses want to be,” he said.  

The agenda for the short trip is packed. St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch will join Austin Mayor Kirk Watson in a discussion panel. Chamber members are scheduled to connect with leaders at the Austin Transit Partnership, Austin Housing Conservancy, Leadership Austin, the Austin LGBT Chamber, and universities and schools.

At the conclusion of the trip, the Chamber will survey members about their experience and lessons learned to create an intelligence report that can help shape policies and practices for St. Pete. 

Preserving a sense of place 

In more recent years, Austinites have used the slogan “Keep Austin Weird” as a way to promote the city’s small businesses and charm.

“Austin has a similar sense of place as St. Pete,” St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership CEO Jason Mathis commented. “The city may not have been able to preserve everything it wanted. As we grow, we need to prioritize certain elements that we love about our city, things that make us special.” 

According to a 2020 census report, Austin has an estimated population of over 964,170 while St. Pete comes in at 258,308 residents. Both cities are projected to grow immensely.

“It’s tempting to think that a city can be frozen in time. Like St. Pete, I think Austin has this quirkiness and is a very art-centric city. We see art as a key fundamental part of our economic growth. Some of those underlying elements still exist in Austin, but new developments have changed it in significant ways,” Mathis said. “We need to learn how we can encourage development that reinforces that and can be used to address ongoing concerns like climate change and sustainable equity.” 

Mathis posited that St. Pete’s distinctive friendliness to newcomers is derived from the many locals that moved from the Midwest, bringing their strong sense of hospitality with them.   

Through the Partnership’s recent development guide, Mathis said they discovered the new arriving residents are hailing from California and other states across the Northeast. 

“We embrace the new residents and hope they adopt the same value in not wanting to change who we are as a city.”

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Julie K

    April 14, 2023at12:15 pm

    St. Pete should look to Austin for lessons in how not to let growth go wild. How not to price middle class people out of the housing market. How not to destroy the things that made Austin cool and unique. How not to become a playground solely for the wealthy. How not to create intractable and expensive traffic problems. How not to become a capital of un-housed individuals who have no hope of changing things. I’ve seen Austin devolve. I pray that St. Pete doesn’t follow in Austin’s uncontrolled footsteps.

  2. Avatar

    Mike C

    April 13, 2023at10:08 pm

    Please let St Pete stay St Pete, NOT Austin. Austin has changed radically over the last several years. Its been destroyed. Its frankly no longer a safe place. Yes, learn what city leadership did wrong. Do not lose the DNA of St. PEte, do not defund the police, allow St. Pete to be quirky and artistic, fun and a place to work and live but do not make it Austin.

  3. Avatar

    Will

    April 13, 2023at3:10 pm

    Let Austin be Austin and St Pete be St Pete… Both have their strengths and weaknesses. If there’s anything to come out of this trip it would be to take notes of what not to do. St Pete is certainly growing and I think it’s fair to say a lot of us feel those pains. Sometimes I feel like we need a moratorium on building any new major developments here, it does seem to have gotten out of hand especially downtown…

  4. Avatar

    James A

    April 13, 2023at4:18 am

    When I travel to Austin, I see a homeless population that is out of control and increasing crime as a result of defunding the Austin PD. With the influx of Tesla, as well as FinTech companies, I have seen property values (and Property taxes) markedly increase. I pray that scourge does not occur in St. Petersburg Florida. Certainly, we should NOT offer generous tax breaks to bring such intrusion into our beautiful city. Are you listening Council members?

  5. Avatar

    Donna Kostreva

    April 12, 2023at6:31 pm

    Steve D-
    Austin is not unlike any other city under similar management nationwide. It IS possible to literally “get away with murder” right here in St. Petersburg.

    I lived next to a semi retired SPPD officer who wore two pistols while watering his lawn. He informed me why. I have stories !

    I have seen many things in my decades here. It is not the “paradise” the female lone runners assume, nor those walking blithely in the wee hours.

    I have checked on people on this list since the 90s hoping the children would find their mother’s killer before high school graduation. Alas, I still hope and pray…

    https://police.stpete.org/unsolved-homicides/#gsc.tab=0

  6. Avatar

    Janet

    April 12, 2023at3:38 pm

    I completely agree with Alice. DON’T DO IT I am a native Texan and lived in Austin for 16 years. I left in 1996 because the “real Austin” didn’t exist for me anymore; now it is unrecognizable! I have happy lived in St Pete since 1999 and have watched it morph in similar ways to the way that Austin has, especially downtown. Austin has room to sprawl out into the surrounding area to accommodate the tech companies , St Pete is like an island, where are we going to put all these new people and how on earth is our infrastructure going to accommodate them? DON’T DO IT

  7. Avatar

    Alice

    April 12, 2023at12:27 pm

    Don’t do it. The taxes for Austin residents increase constantly. The way they attract companies is by giving them huge tax breaks. The locals pay for all the construction and disruption to their lives. All under the “agreement” that the new company will hire X amount of people. I don’t think any of them have ever upheld their end of the bargain. Tech companies tend to have higher salary employees which drives up the housing costs. Austin has done next to nothing to add infrastructure. The traffic is insane. Many Austin natives and lower wage workers have had to move miles outside the city to find an affordable place to live. The local government has created a situation so that the streets literally have thousands of homeless camping on sidewalks, under bridges, etc. The garbage they accumulate is picked up by several large trailers regularly. It takes a week to collect it all. I know there is a solution. The city created this problem but have no interest in fixing it. Businesses have had to close because the tents are in front of doors. The owners have to regularly pick up excrement from the sidewalks and parking lots. Do NOT try to emulate Austin. I lived there 24 years. I’m glad to be here in St Petersburg and don’t want it to turn into another Austin.

  8. Avatar

    Steve D.

    April 12, 2023at11:24 am

    There’s at least one thing that I hope St. Pete doesn’t consider aspirational about Austin: their growing and intractable violent crime problem, which continues to vex their “defund-the-police” politicians.

  9. Avatar

    G. Steve Jordan

    April 12, 2023at9:52 am

    “It’s tempting to think that a city can be frozen in time.”
    I find this sentiment expressed by Mr. Mathis troubling, the implication being that those of us who wish to preserve the essence of the unique St. Pete vibe are anti-growth or anti-development.

    What many St. Pete residents desire is concerted efforts by St. Pete leaders, planners and developers to be sure that ongoing development of our beautiful Tampa Bay area respect and complement the natural and historic assets we are fortunate to enjoy.

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