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Joe’s Creek project provides another boost for Lealman

Mark Parker

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The Joe's Creek Greenway project is one of many the county is undertaking to revitalize Lealman. Screengrab.

Pinellas officials are investing a significant amount of time and money into advancing the underserved Lealman Community Redevelopment Area lately – and a key part of those efforts is a $51 million project to transform Joe’s Creek and its banks into a thriving centerpiece.

The sprawling Joe’s Creek Watershed encompasses a 9,256-acre area that extends from Lealman to St. Petersburg. In February, the county received a $17.1 million grant from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to aid in a transformative reimagining of the creek. During Tuesday’s county commission meeting, the board unanimously approved a $25 million grant request to the Department of Transportation under the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act for the expansive restoration project.

County Administrator Barry Burton told commissioners the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) Grant Program is a competitive application process, and if approved, would combine with several other funding sources. In addition to the aforementioned $17.1 million Community Development Block Grant, the county also received $3.1 million from the American Recovery Plan Act and $360,000 from the Southwest Florida Water Management District for Joe’s Creek.

The grants would reduce the Penny for Pinellas funding needed for the project’s completion to $5.4 million.

“This is a pretty big deal for the goals there,” said Commission Chair Charlie Justice before the board voted.

The goals include turning what Kelli Hammer Levy, director of public works, called an eyesore and flood risk into an amenity for Lealman, which sits about six miles northeast of downtown St. Petersburg. Following February’s grant, Levy told the Catalyst that Pinellas officials brought representatives from the DEO into the Community Redevelopment Area to illustrate what the county hopes to accomplish. She said there are several flood-prone areas in the community, and the ability to drastically reduce those risks was a major selling point for the state.

Levy called Joe’s Creek a potential centerpiece for Lealman, despite its current appearance.

“When you walk out there today, it doesn’t look like anything special,” she said. “As a matter of fact, it looks like a drainage ditch.”

However, the county has big plans for the watershed, specifically the main channel that runs through Lealman. The project includes restoring Joe’s Creek to its more natural state to improve environmental resiliency and providing green infrastructure to enhance water quality and wildlife habitat. The county also plans to create a multimodal trail along its banks to increase connectivity and offer recreational and economic development opportunities.

“This really is a catalytic project that has both tremendous environmental and economic benefits,” said Chris Moore, assistant to the county administrator.

Moore explained the multimodal trail would improve pedestrian safety and unlock the area’s economic potential, using the City of Dunedin as an example. He said the Pinellas Trail “essentially transformed” Dunedin and noted city leaders effectively built a local economy around the converted railway. He believes the same opportunity exists in Lealman.

Moore said the Joe’s Creek project would connect to the countywide Pinellas Trail network and Raymond H. Neri Park. He added that the county adopted a $5 million master plan for the park – also in Lealman – and expects construction to begin in January of 2023. The greenway would also connect to the Lealman Exchange.

“A lot of connectivity to that, and of course, other public transit opportunities,” he said. “Essentially, this would be a linear park that would run through the community – and Lealman is fortunate to have really strong environmental assets …

Between the combined synergies of environmental, economic and social benefits, Moore said it is easy to see why the state already awarded Pinellas $17 million for the project. Now the county is asking the federal government for another $25 million, and he said officials are confident in the application’s strength. He added that Joe’s Creek running through a low-income, underserved community only adds to the value its restoration provides.

“It really is a big deal,” stressed Moore. “Obviously, this money would go a lot further to ensure that it’ll be built in the near term.”

Transforming Joe’s Creek into a connective natural centerpiece would provide yet another boost for an area that has recently made headlines for major business projects.

Last week, the Pinellas County Board of Adjustment and Appeals approved a conditional request for Tesla to convert a dilapidated Kane’s Furniture liquidation center in Lealman into a state-of-the-art delivery and repair center. E-commerce behemoth Amazon also recently started construction on a delivery center along the underserved community’s border.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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