From the invocation to the poem to Mayor Rick Kriseman’s brief remarks at the dawn of his second term, the message on a chilly Tuesday outside St. Petersburg’s City Hall reaffirmed a warm embrace of diversity and inclusiveness. That is a welcoming theme that reflects how far the city has come in its political and civic leadership, and how that commitment has paid off in a vibrant downtown and resurgent neighborhoods. Kriseman’s challenge over the next four years will be to build upon that progress and ensure it extends beyond expensive new downtown apartments and thriving craft beer pubs to all corners of the city.
In his brief 10-minute remarks, the mayor recounted highlights from his first term and pledged to move those efforts forward in his second. Continuing to reduce poverty appropriately remains at the top of the list, because there is much more to be done in Midtown and elsewhere. Pilings for the new pier peek out of the bay, and there are key decisions left to be made about signature artwork and restaurants. The new police station is well under construction, although the cost of the building and a new firing range has ballooned to $85 million.
Beyond getting stalled projects such as the pier and the police station moving again, Kriseman’s most far-reaching success in his first term was forging an agreement to let the Tampa Bay Rays look in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties at potential sites for a new baseball stadium. The focus now is on a promising Hillsborough site in Ybor City adjacent to the Channel District and the new Water Street Tampa project downtown. Kriseman correctly pointed out the deal he negotiated improves the chances of keeping Major League Baseball in the region, and it reflects a confidence St. Petersburg lacked when Tropicana Field was built three decades ago. As the mayor said Tuesday in a direct message to the Rays, "We’d love for you to choose us, but we’ll be just fine without you, too.’’
Kriseman is right even if his tone was a bit more defiant than usual. With or without the Rays, the mayor’s biggest challenge will be kicking off the redevelopment of the 85-acre Trop site. A master plan has been completed, but it will take more refinement and more community involvement before developers are invited to share their ideas. This is a remarkable opportunity that virtually no other city can provide, and how it plays out will affect St. Petersburg for generations.
Other priorities from Kriseman’s first term naturally will be highlighted in his second term. The city will have to continue to invest in repairing and improving its sewer system following more than 200 million gallons in spills. The mayor also will continue to focus on green initiatives to make the city more energy efficient, and he noted the city and Duke Energy will announce this week they have an agreement to switch city streetlights to more efficient, brighter LEDs. Kriseman also suggested he will step up his efforts on transportation and push harder for regional transit options, correctly noting, "There is no debating that the status quo is simply unacceptable.’’
The mayor kicked off several key projects during the last four years, and voters chose to give him another four years in office to complete them. Ultimately, his legacy will be determined by how well he finishes what he started.