St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman’s time in the office is coming to a close, but that doesn’t mean he wants his longtime vision for the city to go out the door.
On Wednesday, Kriseman spoke with the St. Pete Catalyst while sipping on a cold beer at Grand Central Brewing, where he talked openly about the challenges the city still faces, and transformative projects he wants the next mayor to ensure will come to fruition.
The topics ranged from the future of the 800 Block, which is where Moffitt wants to build a new cancer center, to the evolution of the Deuces and racial equality.
The responses have been edited for clarity.
What are your thoughts on what should happen with the 800 Block? I’ve read through all of the redevelopment proposals. I may narrow it down to two prospects. I would speak with the teams and then I will make a decision. It’s a great block with huge potential. I have a relationship with Moffitt from knowing them. Yes, they would be great to have here, but I cannot base my decision solely on Moffitt. I have to look at what everyone would offer and what makes the most sense for the city.
What are some projects on the horizon that you are excited about? I’m excited about the redevelopment of the police station for the Orange Station project that’s breathing new life to that block. There’s also the Red Apple development (a 45-story mixed-use project) that isn’t only going to change the skyline, it’s bringing a unique design compared to anything else we have, and I’m a fan of embracing different architectural styles. The Municipal Services Center city project is another. We are creating an MSC across from City Hall and it will be more like a campus. We will ultimately redevelop the old site. We have also been working on increasing business activity at the Skyway Marina District. When I came into office, it was dead. My whole team really focused on building up that district and for that, I truly credit Gary Jones, the economic development officer for the city.
Are there any upcoming large projects that the city is vying for? There are a couple of projects we are working on, but cannot talk about. If we bring them home, they are going to be a big deal. We have been able to identify sites for them.
How big of a role does transit play in reshaping the city? Where are we headed?
Transit impacts everything. With Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s (PSTA) bus rapid transit project, the SunRunner, we are finally dipping our toes into mass transit, but we can’t be satisfied there. I’m supportive of the ferry project. On the ferry service, we can start with year-round service in the areas with the highest ridership. As much as I’d love to see St. Pete connect with Westshore, it’s not going to have the same ridership South Hillsborough to MacDill or Tampa to St. Pete would have. The Tampa Bay Area Transit Authority (TBARTA) is working on a study for the regional rapid transit line that would connect to destinations such as Wesley Chapel, Tampa and Tropicana Field. That invites people to our city who don’t come here, it invites their money here. BRT is a good first step because if it’s successful, it makes it easier to transition to light rail. The beauty of BRT is you can shift the route. With light rail, once that infrastructure is there, that’s it. The CSX line is potentially a connector and I hope we do get that line. TBARTA is also looking at gondola systems and air taxis. Gondolas are relatively inexpensive, and you don’t lose roadways. Even with bus rapid transit, you typically are losing a lane.
Where does the city stand on racial relations and how is it progressing? I think they are going to continue to improve and I say that because there’s a commitment, it’s something the city wants. We’ve made strides but we are not there yet. There’s the willingness to see greater equity and opportunity. It’s something we’ve tried to get started. The hard part is finding a safe space where people can speak honestly and not have fingers pointed at them because we all have our own perceptions and biases.
How can the vision for the Deuces and the continuation of the 22nd South food hall become a reality?
It is the most historic corridor for the African-American community. That was the heart of the community for a long time so when we said we wanted to do something that is outside of the box for affordable housing units. we said, “Let’s not rent them, let’s sell them so people have ownership. That’s the quickest way to build wealth.” I think it’s going to be important going forward that affordable housing can’t all be rental. For the food hall and the Deuces to work, there isn’t a silver bullet. It has to be a holistic approach. The hard thing is if one part is complete like the food hall prior to the housing element, the community doesn’t have the resources to spend there, then the only way it survives is if people from the outside come in. Originally when we awarded the contract to the Calaloo Group, they ran into issues so that project didn’t happen. When you have the affordable housing component, you are going to have units and have the commercial section that can go across the street – it’s creating that environment. It’s not easy and doesn’t always work. The key to being successful is you can’t be afraid of failure. You got to try it, if it doesn’t work, you have to try something else. You have to be willing.
When you leave office, what should the next mayor prioritize? The hope is whoever comes in after you, they will build on the successes you had and address those that didn’t succeed. We have a lot of work still for 22nd South and the Martin Luther King Jr. St. and 16th Street corridor. We need to continue to focus on getting 22nd South on solid footing. With 16th Street and MLK, they both have tremendous opportunities when the Trop site redevelopment happens.
What do you see as your legacy? I get asked this question a lot. When people think of legacies, they think of structures or buildings. For me, I’ve always said if I leave and people said, “He made a difference and changed the culture in the city that is more diverse and welcoming,” then that’s the legacy I want.
What’s next for you? I’m going to live my life like a Jimmy Buffett song (he chuckles). I’m not running for anything. I don’t have any plans for 2022. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m hoping I can find a job that is as emotionally and psychologically rewarding as this has been, and work with people who are as dedicated as my team is. Even in my law career, I’ve helped people with disabilities and those who were in accidents. I’ve always gravitated towards helping people; it’s in my blood. I never thought I’d be a mayor. This is the most fulfilling career I’ve had.