Thanks to the St. Petersburg Innovation District (SPID), the city will soon boast a Defense and Maritime Technology Hub – which will be known simply as “The Hub” moving forward – inside of the former SRI (nonprofit scientific research institute) building.
City council enthusiastically approved SPID’s plans to repurpose the vacant waterfront facility at 450 8th Avenue SE at last Thursday’s council meeting. The project is expected to create 182 jobs with a combined salary of around $15 million with the space is fully utilized. City Development Administrator Alan DeLisle told councilmembers that they were not asking for a vote at the meeting, and were just looking for feedback before coming back with a formal lease agreement.
The feedback was unanimously positive.
“This is such a win-win-win project,” said councilmember Darden Rice. “And really everything that we have always hoped for that building and developing our part and aligning with our ‘Grow Smarter’ strategy.”
DeLisle said that Mayor’s office made the development of the Innovation District a priority early on, and for the last seven to eight years officials have studied how to bring together higher education, the business community, economic development, government and the community at large.
“Other cities that have done that and done that well are probably the most competitive economic development cities in the country,” said DeLisle.
DeLisle added that previous goals set by SPID are already being reached, including a $3.4 million streetscaping project that will begin soon. Research is a focus, he said — research leads to innovation, which leads to commercialization, which then leads to more dollars for the city.
“There isn’t a city in the world that wouldn’t have begged for the John Hopkins research facility,” said DeLisle. “They would have killed for it, and we got it.”
Jessica Eilerman, Manager of Economic and Workforce Development for the city, said that not only is repurposing the former SRI building bringing a unique asset online, but it is also doing so in an innovative and collaborative way meant to spur connection, partnership, entrepreneurial and opportunity creation. She added that the impacts have to go beyond the building walls and into the community.
“The project is focused on creating targeted internship programs and opportunities for students, as well as peer-mentoring for local entrepreneurs in early-stage industries specific to this Hub project,” said Eilerman.
Eilerman said that there will be a sliding scale on rent over the five-year term for tenants, starting at zero dollars for rent and moving up to $10 per square foot. She said this will allow space and time to properly match firms to the unique opportunities the building offers. There are also job target counts included in the terms that will increase each year. These jobs are anticipated to be high-wage positions with an average salary of between $100,000 and $125,000 annually.
Councilmember Robert Blackmon asked DeLisle how much SRI was paying to lease the building, to which DeLisle replied, “nothing.”
“Sounds like a better deal,” said Blackmon, which elicited laughter from those in attendance.
SPID will be responsible for operational costs and maintenance, and the city will provide $250,000 over the first five years for capital expenses. After that, SPID will be responsible for all capital expenses.
Allison Barlow, Executive Director for SPID, said this a great opportunity to take an asset in the Innovation District and “turn it into something magical.” Barlow said SPID first started sitting down with potential tenants back in January to talk about the potential for the site, which will feature a campus atmosphere. She said the building features unique attributes that are not usually seen in the city.
Half of the space is lab space for research, assembling equipment and embracing the next wave of technology. It is also located on the port, which allows for in-water tests and evaluation. Lastly, Barlow said the building has the ability to provide secure communications.
“We can actually flourish our defense contracting world here,” she said. “It’s a space that many of our community members are working in but have to travel to complete those tasks.”
Twelve companies have been selected to be the initial tenants, and there is still room to add more. Florida Fish and Wildlife is one organization that Barlow is actively pursuing to join the space.
“A company that comes in can’t just be a tenant,” said Barlow. “They are going to have obligations to the community and to the district.”
Barlow said they are working on pathways from local colleges and universities for students to have opportunities, for internships – including internships where they can receive security clearances while still in school – as well as future employment opportunities.
Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders said that while she is always excited for growth, she would like to know what the 12 companies that are moving into The Hub will do to ensure that opportunities exist for everyone.
“I plan on being intentional to see how it grows and serves a community as diverse as the city of St. Petersburg,” said Figgs-Sanders.