1. News

St. Petersburg to look into expected sea level rise in waterfront master plan

Much of St. Petersburg’s waterfront, shown from the Vinoy Renaissance hotel, left, to the tip of the Albert Whitted Airport runways, right, is barely above sea level. Experts agree that Tampa Bay’s sea level is expected to rise several feet by 2100.
Published Oct. 12, 2014


When city officials publicly kicked off the downtown waterfront master planning process in August, they described the nearly seven miles fronting Tampa Bay as a beautiful gem that set the city apart.

What Mayor Rick Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin and planning chief Dave Goodwin didn't mention in their remarks to hundreds of residents gathered in a ballroom at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront was the threat of rising sea levels between Coffee Pot Bayou and Lassing Park.

As city residents weigh in on the future of Al Lang Stadium, Albert Whitted Airport, Vinoy Park and the port, the scientific consensus that much of that area might increasingly be threatened by storm surges and mounting drainage problems hasn't been a major topic of the public conversation.

"I don't think it's high enough on the radar screen," council member Karl Nurse said.

Experts agree that Tampa Bay is expected to rise several feet by 2100, although the bulk of that rise will probably occur toward the end of the century, depending on how the world decides to tackle global warming. Much of St. Petersburg's waterfront is barely above sea level.

Goodwin said city staffers met late last week with Gary Mitchum, oceanographer at University of South Florida St. Petersburg, member of the Pier selection committee and expert on rising sea levels, to discuss how the city can account for rising sea levels.

"Part of the journey of this plan is to get a handle on it and deal with it," Goodwin said. "It's one of the core issues."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' midrange prediction calls for sea levels to rise 3.2 feet in St. Petersburg by 2100, virtually guaranteeing a 5-foot flood within that time span, according to

Mitchum said he hasn't had much time to study the waterfront plan yet but no drastic impact from rising water is anticipated in the next 25 years. "There isn't any nightmare scenario," he said.

But drainage will continue to worsen as the water rises, he said, and storm surges are likely to worsen as well.

An antiquated drainage system created in the 1920s and 1930s further compounds the potential problems, council member Darden Rice said.

Still, she doesn't think the issue is being ignored.

"I think we all have our eyes on this," she said.

Cathy Harrelson, chairman of Sustainability Council, a group formed to make the city more environmentally and economically efficient, isn't as sure.

"The city has said they'll account for it — I haven't seen it yet," Harrelson said recently. "I do think it is something that needs to move farther to the front of planning. We shouldn't be doing any kind of structural planning without putting that at the top of the list."

Eckerd College marine scientist David Hastings said the city needs to adapt to higher sea levels that are scientific certainty at this point. Although a global problem, solutions to combat global warming effects can be found on the local level, he said, citing ideas like installing innovative sea walls to planting mangroves.

"It's about leadership," he said.

Kriseman said the city will highlight the issue next month with a panel on rising seas at the BLUE Ocean Film Festival. He mentioned the dilemma in his swearing-in remarks earlier this year, and has lobbied state and federal officials.

"It's going to be part of the conversation moving forward . . . it has to be," Kriseman said. "It's not a plan for next year. It's a plan for the next 50 years."

Contact Charlie Frago at or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.


  1. This Wednesday, June 21, 2017, file photo shows the building that houses the headquarters of Uber, in San Francisco. Uber acknowledged more than 3,000 sexual assaults occurred during U.S. Uber rides in 2018, the company said in a long-awaited safety report. ERIC RISBERG  |  AP
    That figure includes 229 rapes across the company’s 1.3 billion rides.
  2. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Both robbers were shot and killed, and the fourth victim was in a nearby vehicle when shots rang out at a crowded intersection in Miramar.
  3. Transgender student Drew Adams speaks with reporters outside of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Adam's fight over school restrooms came before a federal appeals court Thursday, setting the stage for a groundbreaking ruling. Adams, who has since graduated from Nease High in Ponte Vedra, Fla., won a lower court ruling last year ordering the St. Johns County school district to allow him to use the boys' restroom. The district has since appealed. RON HARRIS  |  AP
    The closely watched case of Drew Adams, once a high school student in Florida, is heard by a three-judge panel in Atlanta.
  4. Previous competitions did not round up a lot of the invasive snakes
  5. Jamie Harden of Creative Sign Designs and Maryann Ferenc of Mise en Place discuss priorities for the Tampa Bay Chamber for the coming year. Harden is the outgoing chairman of the chamber. Ferenc is the incoming chairwoman. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
    Leadership of the organization, formerly the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, also says it could have handled its recent name change better.
  6. Michele Arceneaux, former president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, speaks during a press conference against three proposed toll roads in the Florida Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. LAWRENCE MOWER  |  Lawrence Mower
    The announcement came as the Florida Chamber of Commerce touted the proposed roads.
  7. The snow park in Pasco County will be known Snowcat Ridge Alpine Snow Park and is scheduled to open in November 2020. Snowcat Ridge Alpine Snow Park
    The park in rural east Pasco anticipates opening in November 2020.
  8. Workers repair a broken pressurized sewer line along 62nd Avenue N. JAY CONNER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Private sewer pipes have always been the responsibility of property owners. Now if city officials notice a problem, they can force a homeowner to make repairs.
  9. Richard Taormino is accused of beating and raping a woman in an abandoned mobile home park, according to St. Petersburg police. [Pinellas County jail] Pinellas County jail
    Richard Taormino, 44, faces three counts of sexual battery with a deadly weapon and one count of kidnapping.
  10. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Her truck hit two trees and caught fire, troopers said. She was airlifted to a hospital but died of her injuries.