ST. PETERSBURG — As Rick Kriseman settles into his second term as mayor of St. Petersburg, he's looking to wrap up massive infrastructure projects, learn from mistakes and continue to think boldly.
Kriseman sat down with the Tampa Bay Times recently to discuss his vision for his final three years as mayor. He said he "certainly knew we had some issues" in the first term, but he tried to be decisive.
"I've tried to learn from the mistakes I've made and reboot when necessary," Kriseman said. "But I think for us to be the city that we want to be, we have to be innovative and creative."
In a 45-minute interview, he discussed goals for transportation, climate change, Midtown and moving forward from a contentious mayoral race. Answers are edited for brevity and clarity.
Looking forward in your second term, are there specifics areas in which you want to continue to innovate?
Obviously in my second term I want to finish the pier and the (St. Petersburg Police Department) station and the training center. … And move forward with the Kriseman Infrastructure Plan, as it's called. (The plan calls for more than $300 million to repair and upgrade the sewage system.) I want to not only get through that five years, but then lay the groundwork for the future of our infrastructure and how we address it. How we prepare for, related to that, climate change and sea-level rise.
That's such a big, long-term issue. What do you think, realistically, on climate change and sea-level rise that you can do in the next few years?
We've got seawalls we need to repair and work on, and while we're doing that we can make them more resilient. We're going to have to do the same work on our marina. … We're going to need to make changes policy-wise that aren't brick and mortar, so to speak, but set the future, long term. How are we going to build new structures in St. Pete, especially those along the waterfront or close to the waterfront? …
I feel lucky to have a second term, but I've realized there's no way, that even in a second term, everything that we want to get done is going to get done. It's really about creating policies and capital improvement plans that are long term, sustainable and that get finished by administrations that follow me. … I really want to make sure that fiscally, policy-wise, that whoever follows me is in a good place where they're not having to scramble or try to deal with things hitting them quickly.
Do you feel like you were hit with that when you took office?
One of the things that I've learned is that the infrastructure — not just of our water and sewer and stormwater system, but our overall infrastructure — that some of the important investments weren't made. And when I say infrastructure, it isn't just in the physical buildings. It's in planning for the success the city was starting to see and that continuing.
Your administration does have a lot of big infrastructure plans, between the pier, the new police department and maintaining sewage and water. How do you manage these large-scale projects and make sure everything stays on track?
My goal has always been, from the time I took office to the time I leave, is to try and make sure I have the best people in place. … There have been changes. ... Some of them have been where folks who were here for awhile decided to retire because they might not have been interested in going in the direction we were or doing some of the things we were doing. We've done some hirings, where we brought on additional personnel. Not because I want to grow government, but because we do need to be in a position to be able to manage the growth that's happening in the city. … I think it's a combination of making sure we have the right personnel, enough personnel, and utilizing technology to the greatest extent we possible can.
You mentioned staff, and usually a second term is an opportunity to re-evaluate. For the most part, though, it seems like your senior staff has stayed pretty consistent.
We've had some significant folks who left (city administrator, leisure services administrator, building official, and others) … While some of my key personnel have stayed on, I felt comfortable keeping them on because I felt like they were doing a good job. … I've got people around me who, one, are incredibly committed to the city and trying to make this a great place. Two, that aren't afraid to tell me if they think I'm going in a direction or proposing something that's not a good idea.
Midtown and the area of south St. Pete is a region administrations have been working on for a long time. What in three years can you really hope to accomplish?
I think we've tried it differently with the CRA and we've seen some signs and some data indicators that some of what we're trying is working. We want to build on that. We recognize we need to continue to build workforce development … but also placement. It's great to create jobs, to get people trained for jobs, but we need to try and do what we can to impact them actually getting those jobs. Youth employment programs are, in some ways, almost more important now than they've ever been. And financial empowerment, which we've recently started trying, to make sure that kids who may not have learned this at home that they're learning about opening a bank account, saving money, investing your money. ... It's not something school really teaches.
Transit is a big focus for you and one that's besieged the region for decades. What do you think is the biggest roadblock for projects?
Certainly the biggest challenge we have is the financial resources for it. We don't have the ability right now as a city to go to referendum to ask the voters to implement a transit surtax. We've got to get creative. We have to look at other ways of funding transit alternatives. Whether it's getting four governments to chip in $150,000 to have a ferry service that at least runs seasonally, or if it's saying yes we'd like light rail, but we've got to take a first step and (bus rapid transit) is that first step.
Any other topics you want to go on the record about as a focus for these next three years?
One that should be within the next year or so is there's going to be a renovation and kind of reinvention of parts of Boyd Hill. The Pioneer Park area and environmental studies area and campground area. We are going to be doing some significant work to it that we think, when it's done, the community is going to go crazy over. … This other one I want to make happen, and I hope I can at least get the ball started on, is the municipal services center. To me, having that center there kind of disrupts the flow on Central Avenue. And it's not the best use for that building. I would rather have our municipal services center closer to where City Hall is so we can create more of a campus. ...
Obviously we're incredibly excited about the Tropicana Field site. Aug. 6, I think, is the date for an opportunity for the public to come out and give us their feelings of what they'd like to see.
What have you done to repair some of the fissures in the community from the 2017 mayoral election?
The election is over. We've got a city to run. We've got progress we want to make. And everybody needs to be a part of it and everybody is welcome to be a part of it. If you're in politics, what you're supposed to do, and I think that's part of the problem we have in both our state and federal government right now, is when the election is over, you move on.
Have you talked to Baker since the election?
I have not, other than a week or so after the election, he texted me to say congratulations. … Former Mayor (Bill) Foster and I had lunch recently, and I know he supported Mayor Baker. Mayor (David) Fischer and I have talked, and he supported Mayor Baker. I don't know what Mayor Baker is doing right now. I reached the olive branch out to him the night that I won in my speech. Our goal is to move forward as one community.
What's next for you after this?
Frankly, I have no idea. I'm focused on these three years and enjoying every minute and taking every minute as precious. There's a sign you'll see as you walk out my door that talks about how precious time is. There's still a lot to do that I want to get done.