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St. Petersburg named 27th city in US Ignite Smart Cities Network

Megan Holmes



Major news came out of the inaugural Sunny Side Up Lecture Series held Wednesday morning at USF St. Petersburg’s Lynn Pippenger Hall. The event, which came out of a partnership developed between the USFSP Kate Tiedemann College of Business, the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, became the venue for an announcement that the city of St. Petersburg was named US Ignite’s 27th network city. St. Pete is not only the first partner city in Florida, but the program’s first coastal city.

Left to right: Jason Mathis, St. Pete Downtown Partnership; Sridhar Sundaram, USFSP KTCOB, Bill Wallace, US Ignite; Martin Tadlock, USFSP.

St. Petersburg joins the ranks of cities like Austin, TX and Chattanooga, TN in US Ignite’s network to share best practices and ideas to accelerate the growth of smart, connected cities. The program brings national visibility, economic incentives to build next generation applications and services, national partners and grant funding opportunities, along with assistance from their smart city toolkit, which includes templates for grant applications.  

But it’s the story behind the Sunny Side Up Lecture Series that tells more about the kind of place St. Pete is. The inaugural speaker was US Ignite Executive Director Bill Wallace, a native of St. Petersburg and graduate of Northeast High School. These days, Wallace has traded St. Pete for Washington D.C., and Northeast High for an arguably more impressive alma mater, Harvard Business School.

A chance meeting between Wallace’s mother (a St. Pete resident) and St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership founding members and advocates Peter and Susan Betzer brought about the connection that sparked St. Pete’s interest in US Ignite. “I wouldn’t be here were it not for my mother having mentioned to Susan Betzer and Peter Betzer what we were doing,” said Wallace. “And then they talked to Alison [Barlow] and for two years Alison kept talking to me, ‘How are we going to make this happen?’”

St. Pete Innovation District’s Alison Barlow

“It’s the little St. Pete things,” laughed Alison Barlow of the St. Pete Innovation District. “I kept watching them … finally they put out an RFP to be part of the US Ignite Network. So we submitted an application in Fall of 2017.”

The process was very competitive, Barlow explained. Only two cities were picked for that first round and St. Pete didn’t make the cut. Finally, two years later, St. Pete joined the ranks.

“I’ve read a few documents from the city, the Sustainability Action Plan, which is very impressive, the Grow Smarter St. Pete plan that the chamber and the city did,” said Wallace. “Tons of good things going on in the smart city realm.”

The many organizations involved in planning how St. Pete will utilize the resources of the US Ignite Network wasted no time getting started. An accelerated planning committee meeting began just 15 minutes after the announcement. Players from the City of St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, St. Pete Economic Development Corporation, USF College of Marine Science, Innovation District and Downtown Partnership gathered together in a conference room within USF to brainstorm and talk priorities.  

Barlow said her first priority for the meeting is to get everyone together and thinking about working toward St. Petersburg as a smart city. After that, she sees a unique plan coming out of St. Pete’s situation as a coastal city. She mentioned the city’s Integrated Sustainability Action Plan as one hot topic for smart city technology, along with the possibility of bringing marine scientists on research vessels into classrooms throughout the city via digital education technology.

“We’re going to come up with something that’s very unique to St. Pete,” said St. Pete Downtown Partnership CEO Jason Mathis. “Something that meets our needs and builds on the foundation that we already have that will be distinct from these other 26 cities.”

“We’ll take our findings from today and take about a month to sift through them,” Barlowe explained. “We need collaboration and alignment – and I hope in about a month we can say, ‘These are our priorities.’”

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