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New USF St. Petersburg – Downtown Partnership series gives community a seat at the table

Megan Holmes

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A new series is bringing the community to the table for conversations on how St. Petersburg can use rapidly changing technology and innovation to continue moving the city forward.

The St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Kate Tiedemann College of Business hosted its inaugural Sunny Side Up Lecture Series Wednesday at Lynn Pippenger Hall in St. Petersburg.  

Wednesday’s lecture, featuring St. Petersburg native William Wallace, convened a veritable who’s who of St. Petersburg business and nonprofit leaders, gathered to hear about how public-private partnerships throughout the country can use new technology to change their city for the better – in areas like transportation, healthcare, education and infrastructure.

The inaugural Sunny Side Up Lecture Series audience.

In the early 1970’s, the Partnership’s first iteration – called St. Pete Progress – was responsible for gathering the parcels of land that later became the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Taking a page out of the Partnership’s history books, the Partnership’s new leader lost no time building a relationship with the institution – specifically with the Kate Tiedemann College of Business. “I wanted to meet 100 community leaders in 100 days and Sri was one of those,” explained Jason Mathis, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, referring to Sridhar Sundaram, dean of the business school.

Building on the Partnership’s visionary commitment to a university (USFSP) and preeminent research institution in St. Petersburg (USF College of Marine Science), Mathis was looking for ways to continue the organization’s legacy. “One of the hallmarks of the Downtown Partnership has been an ability to look forward and say ‘What are the small things we can do right now?” said Mathis. “‘What are the purposeful decisions we can make as a community that can move us in the right direction?’”

Together, Mathis and Sundaram decided on a community conversation, a twice-quarterly lecture series to bring the community into the university. “We wanted to collaborate with the Downtown Partnership to bring speakers that help the community re-imagine what the future of St. Petersburg and its economy can be,” said Sundaram in a press release.

“It’s so easy to get bogged down in the day to day management of a company or a city,” Mathis explained. “But the really successful cities moving forward are going to be the ones that think ahead and strategize and say, ‘Okay what is happening demographically, what’s happening with technology, what’s happening with climate change?”

“How can we capitalize on that knowledge to position this city to take advantage of this change?”

“What’s so unique about this business college is how thoughtfully they have integrated into the larger community,” Mathis said. “Frequently, academia sits in this ivory tower away from the business community and away from downtown, and they don’t have relationships. That is not this institution.”

“So we’re telling the story – and this series is the start of us doing that in a more formal way.”

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