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St. Petersburg innovation incubator wins $7.5 million federal grant

The Tampa Bay Innovation Center Incubator, which has received a $7.5 million U.S. Commerce Department economic development grant, is planned for 2.5 acres at at the southwest corner of Fourth Street and 11th Avenue S in the city of St. Petersburg's Innovation District. (Rendering via Pinellas County)
The Tampa Bay Innovation Center Incubator, which has received a $7.5 million U.S. Commerce Department economic development grant, is planned for 2.5 acres at at the southwest corner of Fourth Street and 11th Avenue S in the city of St. Petersburg's Innovation District. (Rendering via Pinellas County)
Published Jul. 29, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The Trump administration on Monday awarded Pinellas County $7.5 million to help build the planned $12 million Tampa Bay Innovation Center Incubator just south of downtown.

"This is a big win for St. Pete and Pinellas County and the culmination of much hard work" on a project years in the making, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said in a response to the news.

Pinellas County commissioners have agreed to put up the remaining $4.5 million for the project, a 45,000-square-foot facility to be built on 2.5 acres currently owned by the city. The site is at the southwest corner of Fourth Street and 11th Avenue S in the Brookside Park neighborhood.

As important, it is in the city's Innovation District, which extends from Fifth Avenue S to 18th Avenue S and includes tech, health and science institutions like the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, SRI International, and the USF College of Marine Science.

'We want it here': St. Petersburg seeks to build the waterfront end of its Innovation District

"There's just so many opportunities that a facility like this can bring," said Tonya Elmore, president and chief executive officer of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a nonprofit organization that has a county contract to provide incubator services to startups and growing companies. The new facility will be big enough for the center and its incubator program and should have space for public gatherings, too. Elmore also is looking to bring in a 3D printing prototype lab and advanced manufacturing capabilities so that tech companies can show prospective investors and clients examples of their products.

"The Tampa Bay area and our state will significantly benefit from this state-of-the-art business facility, which will help to foster innovation and high-skilled workforce development," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement released through the U.S. Commerce Department, which awarded the grant.

Local officials have estimated the 2-story building will take 12 to 16 months to design and another 20 months to build. Within its first nine years, the incubator is expected to work with three cycles of new firms, creating or growing an estimated 150 companies along the way. Greenwood Consulting Group has estimated that the incubator should be supporting 1,265 jobs and generating $127 million annually by its fourth year. Local officials have projected those jobs will pay average salaries of about $54,000 a year.

"Pinellas County is fast-becoming a launch pad for new businesses and innovative ideas," U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, said in a statement released by his office. "But for many entrepreneurs, the high cost of office space is a significant barrier to getting off the ground. The Tampa Bay Innovation Center Incubator will provide a critical boost for entrepreneurship in our region."

The Commerce Department is allocating the funds as part of a $600 million economic development authorization approved by Congress for disaster relief and recovery from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as wildfires and other natural disasters in 2017. The county says the funds will help diversity and strengthen a local economy that lost 741 jobs after Hurricane Irma, many from layoffs at Professional Surveys of Pinellas, Plano Synergy, Transitions Optical, Transdev on Demand and Nielsen.

The $7.5 million is "it's one of the largest awards that the (Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration) has made in Florida through this program," Pinellas County economic development director Mike Meidel said. "Generally this type of (Economic Development Administration) program, the grants are $2 million or less. ... It's significant in the impact that it will have on Tampa Bay."

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Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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