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St. Pete mayor deploys a stealth economic development tool

Margie Manning



Mayor Rick Kriseman, Betty Fox (Betty Fox Band), Ray Lampe (Dr. BBQ)

When St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman stopped in at an Edge District café a few weeks ago to talk barbecue and listen to music, he wasn’t merely  having a great time. He was sending a not-so-subtle message that St. Petersburg is a cool place for businesses.

Kriseman’s visit to The Hideaway Café was documented in a 10-minute video that kicked off a new St. Pete TV show, The Mayor’s Lounge, an economic development tool disguised as entertainment.

Economic development tops the list of agenda priorities for U.S. mayors nationwide and has been the most prevalent major policy issue across mayoral “state of the city” speeches for the past five years, according to a report from the National League of Cities. While economic development can involve financial incentives and tax breaks to attract jobs, it also can be about creating an atmosphere that attracts the talent who fill the high-skill, high wage jobs sought by government, civic and business leaders.

In the Tampa Bay area, the biggest challenge region-wide is attracting and developing talent, the Tampa Bay Partnership said in last year’s Regional Competitiveness Report.

The Mayor’s Lounge aims to signal that St. Petersburg is both business-friendly and a fun place to live and work.

On the inaugural episode, Kriseman talked with Ray Lampe, a pitmaster, author and TV personality known as “Dr. BBQ,” about the namesake restaurant in St. Petersburg that Lampe is opening with his partners, Suzanne and Roger Perry, owners of the Datz, Dough and Roux restaurants in Tampa. They listened to Betty Fox, lead vocalist of the Betty Fox Band, sing “Sweet Goodnight,” while showing off the setting and acoustics at The Hideaway, a café and recording studio.

“If he can illustrate that he is engaged with entrepreneurs and people making an impact, and musicians, that means a lot to people doing business here, or who want to do business here, when they see a mayor out front cheerleading these folks,” said Kevin King, chief of policy and public engagement. “The more he can support and use the resources of City Hall to elevate people in the community, the better.”

And, while St. Petersburg is well known for the visual arts — think museums, galleries and the SHINE Mural Festival — the music scene is a bit under appreciated, King said.

Music can be a significant driver of economic activity, employment, exports and tax revenue. These impacts derive mainly from direct spending on the production of live music and ticket purchases by local residents and tourists, as well as music-related spending on such things as food, drink, accommodation and transport, according to “The Mastering of a Music City,” a 2015 report from recording industry groups IFPI and Music Canada.

Many mayors do some kind of public access program. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn broadcast The Mayor’s Hour for several years, although that program appears to have been on hiatus since last November.

In St. Petersburg, Kriseman’s office and the city marketing department worked together on a show during his first term called St. Pete in Progress, highlighting key projects such as The Pier, the Innovation District, the new police station and the 400 block of Central Avenue.

For his second term, Kriseman wanted a show that would reflect the vibe of the city, King said.

“I researched other shows, and there’s nothing quite like this,” King said.

Kriseman and the marketing department worked on a guest list of business people and musicians to invite. Since the first episode aired, a couple of folks have said in passing they’d like to be on the show too, King said.

The first Mayor’s Lounge took about an hour of Kriseman’s time. The show is produced by the city’s marketing department and the guests are not paid, King said. “There’s time involved, but it’s time well spent,” he said.

The Mayor’s Lounge is expected to run about once a month through the duration of Kriseman’s second term. It’s on YouTube, with links on several social media sites.

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