Wednesday, October 17, 2018
News Roundup

Romano: Bring jobs to the Trop site first. The rest will follow.

First, a lesson:

Remember the Pier.

Next, a warning:

Remember the Pier!

Finally, a battle cry:

REMEMBER THE PIER!

In case that wasn’t clear, I’m suggesting there might be important parallels between the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site and St. Petersburg’s, um, prolonged history with the Pier.

You see, the folks who recently unveiled the latest plans for those 86 acres of prime real estate wanted everyone to know there was still time for public input.

That was appropriate, I guess. It was also an invitation to stagnation.

If you aren’t up on the history of St. Pete’s famed waterfront attraction, you might be surprised to know the city secured a funding source for a new or renovated Pier back in 2005.

And then it spent the next decade, which included three mayoral administrations, dickering and dithering over how to proceed. If I might offer a suggestion, that cannot happen with the Trop site.

I’m not suggesting the input of residents should not be valued. What I am saying is the design cannot be crowdsourced.

The project’s roots are on public land, but its success will depend on private development. The city will be wasting a tremendous opportunity if the plan revolves around a checklist of community suggestions instead of a more bankable approach.

Having said that, the release of a preliminary master plan was a necessary first step.

Expanding Booker Creek, creating a walkable promenade and incorporating green space are all critical, and sound, ideas. They would be, in a way, the infrastructure.

They allow the city to provide a vision for corporations targeted for relocation.

And that will ultimately determine success or failure.

All of the other hopes for that land — affordable housing, needed retail space, entertainment spots, a connector between neighborhoods — will falter without an influx of higher-paying jobs.

That could mean a medical center. That could mean a research park. That could mean a tech hub. That has to mean something more substantial than a convention center or amphitheater.

Or, as one business leader explained it to me this week:

The city should be proud of the way it has nourished and encouraged local artists, but now it needs people who can afford to buy that art.

With its craft breweries, museums and Beach Drive restaurants, St. Pete has forged a national reputation as a funky, friendly gathering spot. Downtown is drawing plenty of residents and visitors, but that has not yet translated into office space or a corporate presence.

In the vernacular of business types, it is still working on a live-work-play environment.

"I believe we’ve done ‘live’ and ‘play’ pretty dadgum well. The ‘work’ part of that equation has been a bit more of a challenge,’’ said J.P. DuBuque, president of St. Pete’s Economic Development Corporation. "I think what you’re going to be seeing is more and more companies wanting to move here and be part of that vibrancy that exists.’’

All of this explains why the Pier saga is instructive today. The Trop site cannot be paralyzed by trying to be too many things to too many people.

If the core plan looks inviting to CEOs and corporate boards, the rest of the growth will happen naturally. And profitably.

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