Make us your home page
Instagram

St. Petersburg Chamber rises from grave after tough year

Like Lazarus, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce is rising from the business grave.

Hints of those darker days emerged Tuesday, couched in diplomatic ChamberSpeak during an otherwise upbeat annual chamber dinner at downtown's Renaissance Vinoy Resort. Let me translate: In recent years, the chamber stumbled badly, alienating local businesses and inflating membership numbers even as more companies stopped paying dues. Worse, back then, the chamber crowed it was the biggest chamber in the metro area.

In early 2011, the chamber's board hired a new CEO, Chris Steinocher, succeeding John Long. Steinocher's title last year should have been chief triage officer. It has taken emergency action by Steinocher to downsize staff, settle lawsuits and pull the chamber out of the red. Most of all, he and his board are rebuilding frayed relations with former members who once felt shunned.

Why do we care? Aren't chambers of commerce still a business cliche of always-sunny, do-little organizations? Maybe. But now this chamber has an opportunity to break that mold. It can help make not only St. Petersburg but also the Tampa Bay region become a better-quality place for businesses and residents.

Steinocher, 47, is not your father's chamber of commerce chief. The Emory University graduate spent 16-plus years working with Stuart Rogel at the Tampa Bay Partnership trying to build a stronger regional economic identity for this tri-city metro area. Over time, Steinocher will be eager to broaden his chamber's ambitions. But right now, he's going back to the most basic chamber function for its members: What can we do to help you grow your business?

A few whiffs of new thinking arose at Tuesday's dinner. Table centerpieces of fresh local vegetables were signals of a community campaign to introduce gardens in many south Pinellas elementary schools. And dinner speaker Peter Kageyama, St. Petersburg author of the book For the Love of Cities, shared his vision of how growing a core of committed people who love and give back to their cities is just as important as recruiting new businesses.

Steinocher's a fan of Pinellas County efforts to pursue a mass-transit plan (and a tax needed to pay for it) — despite Hillsborough County's recent failure to achieve a similar transportation dream. He talks about a regional light-rail system that may one day link a medical cluster of Bayfront/All Children's hospitals with nearby St. Anthony's. Together, the St. Petersburg and Tampa chambers of commerce are pondering ways to boost the Tampa Bay Rays near term and keep them somewhere around here in the long term. Steinocher's also backing USF St. Petersburg's pursuit of a new building for its business school, and exploring how nearby Albert Whitted Airport might grow.

Steinocher praises many, but often credits the city's new favorite son, Bill Edwards, the mortgage-entertainment entrepreneur. Edwards is giving time and money to re-energize downtown's Mahaffey Theater. Soon we'll see his vision of a renamed BayWalk, which he now owns.

The chamber's even dusting off its forgotten mission as an economic development group.

After such intensive rehab, let's see what this on-the-upswing chamber can deliver.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

St. Petersburg Chamber rises from grave after tough year 01/25/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 10:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  2. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood

    Business

    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  3. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa

    Business

    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  4. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county

    Water

    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.
  5. Honda denies covering up dangers of Takata air bags

    Autos

    With just a third of the defective Takata air bag inflators replaced nationwide, the corporate blame game of who will take responsibility — and pay — for the issue has shifted into another gear.

    Honda is denying covering up dangers of Takata air bags. | [Scott McIntyre, New York Times]