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Welch emphasizes milestones, commitments at State of the City

Mark Parker



Mayor Ken Welch at the second annual State of the City address held Tuesday at St. Petersburg's Palladium Theater. Photos by Mark Parker.

Mayor Ken Welch’s second annual State of the City address may have lacked a major announcement, but the pomp, circumstance and focus on unity found at the first event remained.

The inaugural address at City Hall was headlined by Welch selecting the Tampa Bay Rays and Hines to redevelop Tropicana Field. Tuesday morning’s redux at the Palladium Theater highlighted recent milestones – St. Petersburg received $1.37 billion in new construction value last year – and future aspirations.

The latter aspect included Welch’s latest thoughts on the $6.5 billion Historic Gas Plant redevelopment, anchored by a new Rays ballpark. The mayor first reminded residents that he is an accountant by trade.

“The costs, whether viewed in present-day or 30-year horizons, will be exceeded by the benefits, including more than 30 years of property taxes, sales taxes, wages, bed taxes and the fulfillment of promises for the Black community that was displaced,” Welch added. “Those promises have immeasurable value.

“We’ve literally waited decades to be in this position, and we’ve never been this close.”

The Palladium Theater was at capacity for Tuesday’s event.

City officials must approve final agreements in March to meet a critical construction timeline. A draft term sheet has the Rays contributing $700 million to a $1.3 billion ballpark. Pinellas County tourism tax dollars would provide $312.5 million, and the city committed $287.5 million.

Welch expressed his confidence in a deal that projects 37,000 new jobs. He said it includes a $500 million pledge to minority workers, $50 million in additional community benefits, 1,200 affordable and workforce housing units and much-needed office and conference space.

“The city’s costs are capped, and we’ll utilize the same revenue streams we’ve traditionally used for Tropicana Field,” Welch said. “And we’ll use revenues generated by new development where 86 acres of asphalt is now.”

The event commenced and concluded by highlighting St. Petersburg’s diversity, goals and the people that make it unique. City officials reserved a front-row section for Gas Plant descendants amid a standing-room-only crowd.

The St. Petersburg High School jazz band provided accompanying music, and Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. Elementary School students led the Pledge of Allegiance. The John Hopkins Middle School chorus sang the National Anthem.

Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith leaders provided invocations with similar messages of unity. “We welcome our diversity as foundational to the vibrancy, strength and capacity of our community,” Welch said.

Those efforts include the recently established Mayor’s Future Ready Academy, an 18-week job training program that provides full-time pay and employee benefits. Participants also receive additional certifications through Pinellas Technical College.

Welch announced that Dr. Sheron Brown will serve as the city’s new director of education and youth opportunities. The role operates under the Office of Community Impact umbrella, led by Chief Equity Officer Carl Lavender.

Members of the inaugural Mayor’s Future Ready Academy cohort were also in attendance.

Welch also stressed his “unwavering” commitment to increasing attainable housing and homeownership opportunities. He said 280 affordable units are under development, with 834 more funded or approved.

Welch noted zoning changes have increased density for nearly 3,000 parcels. That allowed property owners to build 43 accessory dwelling units in 2023, compared to just 36 over the past decade.

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties is leading the administration’s commitment to providing homeownership opportunities with multiple developments in the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA). Welch said the CRA would generate $12 million for affordable and workforce housing initiatives this year.

The mayor also vowed to combat extreme weather events and sea level rise. Welch said the administration would continue seeking ways to enhance investments in stormwater infrastructure through new legislation, funding and property owner assistance.

“I fully support Councilmember (Brandi) Gabbard’s request for seed funding for an action plan for flood mitigation and adaptation in partnership with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council,” Welch said. “We are committed to addressing this issue as the critical issue it has evolved to become today.”

In addition to the Gas Plant, Welch said administrators would soon bring an agreement for the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina’s redevelopment to the city council for approval. A new sanitation complex will open this year.

Welch said he would also “press for the resolution” of other long-awaited projects. Those include renovating the Manhattan Casino and bringing a grocer back to Tangerine Plaza.

“Our St. Pete team is focused on resiliency, embracing innovation, environmental protection and community engagement,” Welch said. “Together, we are working to make St. Pete a resilient, vibrant and sustainable place for all.”




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  1. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    January 31, 2024at7:14 am

    It’s clearly not accountant skills the Mayor needs for the Rays giveaway deal, it’s economic development negotiating skills. He has given away the store with no guaranteed return. He has risked a lot of the public’s money and way overpaid without ironclad deliverables. An accountant reacts to what others do. A professional, IEDC certified economic developer manages real time risk and reward. Watch out for the Music Man.

    Feeling bad for the great city of St Pete. You will live with this mistake for a very long time. Don’t be rushed by the Rays. Remember it was not long ago it was Montreal or nothing. Dig deep.

  2. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    January 30, 2024at7:55 pm

    Maybe we should make a deal with the WWE since they can actually fill seats.

  3. Avatar


    January 30, 2024at6:32 pm

    Grocery stores operate on a slim profit margin. Brutal epidemic shoplifting has killed previous attempts at operating a grocery store at Tangerine Plaza. Until you can stop the theft, no store will be able to successfully operate here.

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