The days of a sleepy retirement town dotted with green benches are gone for good, said Mayor Rick Kriseman Saturday in an annual address on the state of Florida's fifth-largest city.
Today, green signifies the city as a regional leader in climate change resiliency, high-density growth anchored by tall buildings skirted by safer streets for bicyclists and pedestrians and charging stations dotting the landscape for electric cars, he said.
Crime is low, business is booming and poverty is disappearing from the Sunshine City, the second-term mayor said in a 39-minute address at the Palladium Theatre.
"This is our coming of age," Kriseman told the crowd, which included City Council members, city department heads and political allies like State Sen. Darryl Rouson, Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and State Rep. Ben Diamond.
Although he said the city is outperforming its peers economically, Kriseman urged council members to unanimously approve zoning changes encouraging locally-owned businesses to continue to flourish along Central Avenue and Beach Drive. In recent months, Daddy Kool Records, FuBar and other landmark businesses have been forced to leave Central Avenue because of rising rents.
“Help us keep the vibe alive,” Kriseman said, adding that unlike cities such as Savannah, Charleston or Charlotte, visitors to St. Petersburg can shop and dine in businesses that don’t exist anywhere else.
Addressing concerns about the proliferation of high-rise residential towers, the mayor said his administration was pursuing a progressive approach to forgo sprawl in favor of building up -- not out.
"Height and density are the only options on the table," he said.
The theme of the morning was diversity and inclusion reflected in speeches by Deputy Mayor and City Administrator Kanika Tomalin and City Council chairman Charlie Gerdes, who detailed the strengths and contributions of his seven colleagues in a voice often cracked by emotion.
Gerdes said he had recently asked Kriseman what his plans were after he leaves office in January 2022. The mayor, he said, told him he was totally focused on leading the city.
Kriseman, a Democrat, has been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate that year. The mayor didn't dwell on his political future Saturday. Instead, he pledged to finish strong.
“We will not leave public safety and poverty and sewer pipes and the Pier to those who follow us. These are our issues to solve. This is our time to shine,” Kriseman said to a standing ovation to end his speech.