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Spectrum partnership fuels St. Pete Innovation District’s first Smart Cities projects

Megan Holmes

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In January, the St. Pete Catalyst reported that St. Petersburg was named the 27th city in US Ignite Smart Cities Network. Today, US Ignite, a nonprofit working to accelerate the smart city movement, and Spectrum together officially announced St. Pete as the first Smart Gigabit Community in Florida. 

St. Petersburg joins the ranks of cities like Austin, Texas and Chattanooga, Tenn. in US Ignite’s network to share best practices and ideas to accelerate the growth of smart, connected cities.

At the heart of St. Pete’s selection is a public-private partnership between Spectrum and the St. Petersburg Innovation District to develop smart, technology-driven strategies to address local needs relating to infrastructure, workforce development, public safety, education and community health. The partnership is vital to the success of a Smart Gigabit Community, because tech infrastructure is critical to the advancement of a smart city. 

“As a city we really try to stress that city government can’t and shouldn’t be the ones to solve all of the problems that we face,” said Mayor Rick Kriseman. “Partnerships are really the key. We feel really fortunate here to have US Ignite and Spectrum as our partners in this endeavor.”

Bill Wallace, US Ignite (Photo courtesy of USFSP).

According to US Ignite Executive Director Bill Wallace, a native of St. Petersburg, that partnership was key to St. Petersburg’s selection into the Smart Cities Network. In fact, he told the St. Pete Catalyst that the St. Pete Innovation District’s first application in 2017, which was not selected that year, was outstanding in every way except the fact that it was missing a private partner.

According to Wallace, US Ignite had a hand in helping bring Spectrum to the table. The announcement of its partnership in St. Petersburg marks the first joint initiative between US Ignite and Spectrum, opening doors to other cities serviced by Spectrum, the second-largest cable operator in the United States. 

Thanks to a three-year grant from Spectrum, the St. Pete Innovation District will oversee the implementation of the first two pilot projects already selected by an accelerated steering committee. That committee began planning just 15 minutes after the initial announcement at the end of January. Players from the City of St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, St. Pete Economic Development Corp., USF College of Marine Science, Innovation District and Downtown Partnership gathered in a conference room within the University of South Florida to brainstorm and talk priorities.

The chosen pilot projects will include a smart streetlight project, equipping streetlights with smart sensors to save energy, and an online marine education project connecting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast with the USF College of Marine Science’s research vessels and the scientists aboard those vessels. 

The marine education program is set to hit the ground running in the next 12 months, according to Freddy Williams, President and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast. 

“We try to help prepare them for the future, understanding that many of the future careers need to have a technology focus,” said Williams. “We try to bridge the digital divide and partnering with the Innovation District, US Ignite, Spectrum, Duke Energy and the City of St. Petersburg is going to help us do that.”

“Specifically we’re trying to help them with careers in STEM,” Williams explained. “What better way than partnership with the USF College of Marine Science? The kids are going to help build a reef working with scientists and they’ll have an augmented reality experience to be able to see things they have only heard about or dreamed about or seen on TV. They have an opportunity to have that technology right in front of them.”

The announcement came alongside a complementary panel discussion with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, St. Pete Innovation District Executive Director Alison Barlow, and State Sen. Jeff Brandes. The panel discussed the formation of the Innovation District, how residents will feel smart technology changing their lives, and how to plan “smart cities” for the future for electric and autonomous vehicles. 

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