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St. Pete state funding requests face challenges

Mark Parker



An artist's illustration of the much-anticipated Environmental and Oceanographic research and teaching facility at USF St. Petersburg campus. Image: USF.

State lawmakers have requested $56.8 million for 11 local projects; however, most will only receive about half the desired amount – before facing the governor’s veto pen.

If approved, most of the state appropriations would go toward the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Rep. Linda Chaney and Sen. Nick DiCeglie requested $35.9 million for the school’s much-anticipated Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences (EOS) research and teaching facility.

The House and Senate have recommended providing $17.96 million and $15 million, respectively. David Thompson, government affairs director, said city council members should temper funding expectations at a Feb. 15 committee meeting.

“One of the things that we did hear from the Office of Policy and Budget was that the last few years, the universities have got a lot of investment from the state,” Thompson explained. “In their efforts to dial back on the budget, that was one of the areas they were going to cut from.”

State legislators allocated $75 million for the EOS in May 2022, more than doubling USF’s initial request. Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the funding a month later.

The 2023 budget included $24.3 million for the interdisciplinary center. The facility will bring new degree programs to the St. Petersburg campus, promote the local blue economy and house the Florida Flood Hub.

Rep. Danny Alvarez and Sen. Jay Collins requested $10 million for new or upgraded Office of Veteran Success facilities on all three USF campuses. However, a school announcement notes that $6 million would go to USFSP, “where one in four students are military-connected.”

Thompson said the initiative did not receive initial support from either legislative branch. The Senate later added $350,000 to its budget to support student veterans.

Councilmember Ed Montanari noted that retired Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, executive director of USF’s Global and National Security Institute, has recently advocated for increasing the university’s servicemember and veteran resources. “To me, this is something big for the City of St. Petersburg that we need to go after,” Montanari said.

“This needs to be a priority going forward.”

Rep. Lindsay Cross and Sen. Daryl Rouson requested $3.78 million for the Mahaffey Theater’s expansion. The Senate recommended a $350,000 appropriation.

Rep. Berny Jacques and Sen. Ed Hooper pursued $800,000 for Williams Park bandshell renovations. The Senate again recommended $350,000 in funding, and the House has not considered either project.

City officials have long sought a proper home for the Cross Bay Ferry. The ship docked in the North Yacht Basin, across from the Vinoy Resort and Golf Club, under a temporary permit since the service launched in 2016.

The ferry moved to Port St. Pete in October 2023. Cross and DiCeglie requested $950,000 to build a permanent dock at the underutilized facility.

Thompson said the potential appropriation did not make it out of legislative committees. “This project was not vetoed – it just wasn’t included in the initial budget,” he explained. “So, we would still have the opportunity to pursue it in a future year if that is something the administration and council would like to do.”

Laura Boehmer, a lobbyist with The Southern Group, said the city would likely have to self-fund the Cross Bay Ferry project.

Here is a breakdown of how municipal funding priorities have fared in the 2024 legislative session:

Screengrab, city documents.


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