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Sneak peek at St. Pete’s State of the Economy

Margie Manning

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Mayor Rick Kriseman, speaking Jan. 14 at the Disston Heights Civic Association at Saint Petersburg Community Church

Smart development is needed for St. Petersburg to keep its unique attributes, Mayor Rick Kriseman will say when he addresses a capacity crowd for the State of the Economy event.

The Jan. 15 program, which is sold out, is expected to include insights on the future development of Tropicana Field, a look at economic trends over five years, and a presentation on Grow Smarter, the city’s economic development strategy.

Growth is essential, Kriseman said on the eve of the event as he addressed the Disston Heights Civic Association.

“If you don’t grow then you stagnate and die. The key is grow smart, try and maintain your character and don’t grow so fast you lose your character, because that’s what makes St. Pete special,” he said, indicating he was previewing his State of the Economy remarks. “What’s different about St. Pete is the feel. There is a vibe, there is a culture, there is a feel to St. Pete that’s different from Tampa and we don’t want to lose that. I love the fact — and I’ve had other people that visit say this to me — they say, you’re a big city but you feel like a community. We need to keep that feel so we need to be smart about how we grow.”

St. Petersburg is landlocked, surrounded by water on three sides, so tall buildings sometimes are needed to accommodate population growth, he said. While critics have said tall buildings detract from the city’s character, Kriseman said they can be designed so there’s not a sense of height at street level.

Kriseman doesn’t expect the current building boom downtown to continue indefinitely.

“I get asked all the time – where is everyone coming from who are buying these places and when have they built enough,” he said. “Developers typically won’t do a project if they don’t think they’re going to make money, and banks aren’t going to lend them the money if they aren’t convinced they will get paid back. I think we are going to get to a point – probably not too far off – where you’re going to see a slowdown on the residential component. But what I expect will happen is there will come a point where they’re not all going to be sold and the result of that will drive prices down, which is not a bad thing … because there needs to be a little bit of leveling in the costs of what real estate is selling for right now. When we start having more units on the market than there are purchasers that helps bring the cost down.”

City officials also encourage developers to consider areas outside of downtown.

“What we’ve said is, you can be in downtown, but you are going to pay downtown rates. There’s a lot of other areas around the city where you can do well financially and it will cost you less money, which means you make more money. We are trying to sell the whole city when we talk about the city to developers. We’re not just talking about downtown,” he said.

As property values rise downtown, retail establishments are expanding beyond the downtown core, which helps stabilize the city’s property base.

“I think we’re in a little better shape than a lot of other cities are when — I didn’t say if, but when — a recession comes back, because I think there will be one in a couple of years. I think we’re in better shape to not have it impact us like some other cities are going to be impacted,” Kriseman said.

Kriseman also made several pitches for participation in StPete2050, a city-wide visioning process that began in November.

“It is critically important to get your input on the future of the city,” he said. “If there are things you like and you want to see more of, if there are things you don’t like and you don’t want to see more of, whatever you feel about the city, this is your opportunity to share that with us.”

A second round of workshops is planned beginning later this month; the full schedule is here. Surveys also are available at the same site online.

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