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The most catalyzing local news of 2023

Mark Parker



Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld (left) and Mayor Ken Welch at the Dec. 13 Good 'Burger Awards ceremony. No topic dominated local headlines quite like their pursuit of a new stadium deal. Photo by Mark Parker.

As 2023 comes to a close, it is time to look back at some of the local stories that catalyzed community conversations and dominated political discourse – with some garnering national attention.

This list relied heavily on the Catalyst’s website traffic data to mitigate bias. The most-read stories can provide a sense of what topics captivated St. Petersburg stakeholders this year.

Here are the stories that help define 2023 in the Sunshine City.

A new Major League stadium

The year began with a proverbial bang in January as Mayor Ken Welch selected the Tampa Bay Rays and Hines to redevelop 86 acres of prime real estate formerly known as the Gas Plant District. Eight months of negotiations between the city, Pinellas County, and Rays/Hines officials ensued.

In September, the public-private partners announced the Rays were “Here to Stay” with all the pomp and circumstance expected of a $6.5 billion redevelopment project anchored by a $1.3 billion ballpark. However, debate regarding financing, public subsidies and how to best fulfill long-broken promises to the Black community which once called the Gas Plant home will continue in the new year.

In January, Welch compared the Rays/Hines and city’s partnership to an engagement. The “wedding” – or formally signed agreements – should occur in March, barring any last-minute estrangements.

Michael Harrison (left), senior managing director of Hines, and Rays President Brian Auld discuss new stadium details at Tropicana Field in September. Photo by Mark Parker.

The “Take Care of Maya” Trial

Netflix released Take Care of Maya June 19. Subscribers streamed the documentary nearly 14 million times in the following two weeks.

At the center of a complicated and tragic story surrounding a n9-year-old girl’s mysterious diagnosis, controversial treatments, child abuse procedures and her mother’s suicide was St. Petersburg’s Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. In November, after a fiercely contested eight-week civil trial, jurors awarded Maya Kowalski (now 17) and her family $261 million for false imprisonment, battery and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

The legal drama will continue into 2024. Maya and her attorney visited the St. Petersburg Police Department Nov. 10, a day after the ruling, to file a criminal sexual assault complaint.

All Children’s attorneys also seek a retrial. They claim the family’s lawyers deliberately misled the jury – resulting in the exorbitant award – and that its foreperson repeatedly discussed the case and posted confidential information on social media.

Maya Kowalski breaks down on the stand Oct. 9 while discussing her mother’s suicide. Screengrab.

A new Howard Frankland Bridge can accommodate rail?

Richard Moss, a regional director with Florida’s Department of Transportation, provided an update on the new $870 million Howard Frankland Bridge to the city council in July. He noted a 20-foot concrete deck could support commuter rail service and part of a commitment to support future transit options, much to the delight of public transportation advocates.

David Gwynn, FDOT’s District 7 secretary, provided clarification at a November county commission meeting. He said accommodating heavy rail – like the expanding Brightline network – would require a separate bridge.

The new Howard Frankland could handle light rail, like connected tram cars that stop and start quickly and frequently. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any (light rail) nearby that you could point to,” Gwynn said.

Are air taxis imminent? 

Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft are no longer science fiction. Discussions on air taxis zipping quietly over Tampa Bay began during former Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration and culminated with Tampa hosting Florida’s first test flight in November.

Tampa International Airport’s (TPA) 20-year master plan includes the development of vertiports, or helipads, to accommodate air taxis. Joe Lopano, CEO of TPA, said, “This is going to be a reality for us really soon.”

Local transit officials have noted that eVTOLs could travel from TPA to St. Pete’s Albert Whitted Airport in eight minutes. Lopano expects commercial flights in the next two years.

The Volocopter at the Sheltair facility in Tampa before a Nov. 2 test flight. Photo by Veronica Brezina.

Hurricane Idalia and beach erosion

Despite early forecast tracks placing St. Petersburg and Pinellas County in Idalia’s “cone of uncertainty,” the area again dodged “the big one.” However, the Category 4 hurricane’s storm surge inundated the city’s Shore Acres neighborhood and beach communities in late August.

Residents are still recovering, and the storm highlighted ongoing property insurance and increasingly severe flooding issues. Idalia also decimated shorelines officials already considered “critically eroded.”

Pinellas County’s public works department implemented emergency restoration efforts in “record time.” However, many beachfront property owners refuse to sign temporary construction easements, putting their neighbors at risk.

Hurricane Idalia’s storm surge washed protective dunes into adjacent roadways. Photo: Pinellas County Government.

Other “most-read” stories of 2023

These five additional stories also captured thousands of readers’ attention in 2023:


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1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Fred Sherman

    December 30, 2023at9:57 pm

    The bell @ The Ovation Condominium was finally SILENCED 🔕🔕🔕

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