ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman led a march down Central Avenue on Wednesday night to signal his support for independent businesses who fear getting priced out of a booming downtown.
Kriseman said he's working on a draft ordinance — no timetable has been set yet on when it might reach City Council — that would privilege locally-owned businesses along Central Avenue to 31st Street and Beach Drive. Those commercial areas, the mayor said, are essential to keeping St. Petersburg unique.
The measure would make it difficult for chains or even stores that use similar logos in multiple locations to set up shop in those corridors. They would need a variance to do so, the mayor's staff said. However, the mayor said the final details of his proposal were still in flux.
St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Chris Steinocher said the city needed to preserve its special character and not fall prey to previous boom towns that became homogenized as they grew and developed.
"We're not trying to say we don't want growth," Steinocher said. "We don't want to learn the lessons that Portland has learned, that Austin has learned, that Nashville is learning, that Atlanta has learned."
On a day that saw the mayor release the first TV commercial for his re-election campaign, the downtown march felt at times like a campaign rally. Kriseman spoke from behind a podium brought out front of Caddy's on Central at 217 Central Ave, for the brief presentation. Later, he held a megaphone as the march began.
Other cities have tried this approach. Some have found unintended consequences like high-priced boutiques and other luxury stores moving into areas instead of chains but still catering to a affluent customer base.
As Kriseman began to answer a question about those unintended consequences from the Tampa Bay Times, chief of staff Kevin King ushered the mayor away.
"We're hoping the exact opposite happens," Kriseman yelled over his shoulder under the firm grip of King. "Hopefully spur these businesses to be on First Avenue N and (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N) and Fourth Street and 16th Street where we need businesses."