A year into the tenure of St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, the city is holding steady. Foster has proved himself competent in running City Hall and can point to a number of modest accomplishments. Now he needs to broaden his vision and look more often beyond the city limits toward regional solutions.
Light rail, a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays and Pinellas County's emergency medical services are developing issues that will have a long-term impact on the city and the region. The St. Petersburg mayor should be building regional consensus on all of those issues, balancing the city's interests with those of the entire area — and those interests need not always be at odds.
Foster had some significant achievements in his first year, despite the economy. His vision for returning professional sports to Al Lang Field has paid off. He was instrumental in Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats' Safe Harbor homeless facility and finding money to ensure the new Dalí Museum opened on time.
He forced the City Council to move on the deteriorating Pier. And he made good on keeping conservative Christian beliefs out of public policy, attending the St. Pete Pride parade and extending benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. He also secured curbside recycling, albeit a volunteer program that residents must pay extra for.
Now Foster needs to engage more in regional issues. On that agenda:
Transit. Foster has said that the federally funded high-speed rail between Orlando and Tampa should extend across Tampa Bay. That is cost-prohibitive and unworkable, and Foster said his focus has changed to ensuring a light rail connector will be quickly built to St. Petersburg. Sitting at the end of the peninsula, St. Petersburg can't afford to just hope for the best.
Baseball. Foster's insistence that the Tampa Bay Rays play in Tropicana Field until 2027 unless the team considers only St. Petersburg sites or those just outside city limits for a new stadium is shortsighted. Foster should seek a reasonable agreement that would give the Rays a specific time frame to study locations only in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in return for some accommodation to the city — a break on paying stadium operational costs, for example. A Major League Baseball franchise is a regional asset, not the city's alone.
Emergency medical services. The countywide service has grown too expensive for taxpayers, and county leaders are seeking changes. But the City Hall staff, responding to an analysis launched under then-Mayor Rick Baker, has suggested it might be better for the county's largest city to go its own way. Pinellas needs more consolidation of government services, not less. Foster needs to work with the county to find the best and most efficient solution — not one that just hardens geographic divides.
Foster, a St. Petersburg native, relishes being mayor and sweats the small stuff. Now it is time for him to assume a higher profile across Tampa Bay and tackle bigger issues that stretch beyond the city limits.