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Partnerships propel new innovation hub

Mark Parker



Several local, state and national leaders celebrated the ARK Innovation Center opening Monday. Construction on the 45,000-square-foot regional business incubator began in February 2022. Photos by Mark Parker.

Myriad local leaders gathered in St. Petersburg Monday morning to celebrate the completion of a long-awaited 45,000-square-foot regional business incubator.

The ARK Innovation Center is Pinellas County’s first facility purposely built to foster entrepreneurship and disruptive startups. It sits on 2.5 acres of city-owned land at 1101 4th St. S. in St. Petersburg’s Innovation District.

County and city officials partnered with the nonprofit Tampa Bay Innovation Center (TBIC) to see the $15.87 million project come to fruition. The U.S. Economic Development Administration committed $11.26 million to construction costs.

“It’s only through collaboration that something this transformative can come together,” said Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

In addition to Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, the Tampa Bay Innovation Center will host a grand opening celebration in January. Photo: Megan O’Keefe, LinkedIn.

While St. Petersburg is home to publicly traded companies like Raymond James and Jabil, Castor called small businesses the local economy’s backbone. She also noted that the city has moved far beyond its “God’s waiting room” moniker and continues moving into a new, technologically focused era.

“There’s this energy,” Castor told the Catalyst. “And you can tell when you have incubators like this focused on tech that are about to take us to the next level. It’s noticeable.”

That transformation accelerated during the pandemic. In addition to a surge in new startups, prominent firms like ARK Invest relocated to the city.

Castor attributed the influx to the area’s live-work-play environment and diversity. Cathie Wood, founder and CEO of ARK Invest, bought the center’s naming rights for $2 million immediately after moving her company to St. Petersburg in November 2021.

“We knew that we could make a difference here because we knew that this was an innately innovative community,” Wood said. “I think we’re on to something big here – like the new ‘Bay Area.’”

Cathie Wood, founder of ARK Invest, told attendees that 75-90% of startups fail. She believes the facility can help increase local success rates.

The Innovation Center’s target industries include artificial intelligence, climate, health, financial and blockchain technologies, data analytics and rapid prototyping. The facility features an innovation lab, an augmented and virtual reality studio, a 150-seat event space, coworking areas, two state-of-the-art classrooms, several offices and a community café.

The TBIC will operate the expansive building and facilitate programming. Wood said it will create an entrepreneurial pipeline that transforms the lives of those in and outside the building.

Tonya Elmore, CEO of the TBIC, said her organization would bring the facility’s “spirit and soul” by providing a supportive environment. She said innovators, scientists, engineers, creators and developers would receive professional guidance and investment opportunities.

Elmore noted that she and Mayor Ken Welch first discussed the idea for an Innovation Center in 2013. Elmore credited local officials and the TBIC’s board of directors for making the “dream a reality.”

“It really wouldn’t have come together, though, without Cathie Wood,” Elmore added. “The project was happening but without that stamp from the visionary and innovative team she has in place … It’s just really changed the dynamic of what this project is going to be.”

Classrooms in the facility at 1101 4th St. South overlook the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus.

TBIC officials declined to announce tenants or rental rates at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. They will release those details after a grand opening celebration in January.

However, the Innovation Center’s website states it will generate over 1,200 jobs and $127 million in economic impact in its first four years. Welch said the facility would have a lasting, “profound” effect on St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.

“Together, we are moving into a new day,” Welch said. “A new era where innovation is not just encouraged but embraced, celebrated and woven into the very fabric of our identity and DNA. Through the power of partnership, we can do great things in our community.”

A gathering area at the ARK Innovation Center provides views of downtown St. Petersburg.




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