ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman on Friday named the 17 advisers he will lean on to decide when and how to reopen the Sunshine City for business after the month-long shutdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The list includes three doctors and a hospital executive, two city officials, the head of the local public transportation agency, a school board member, people who represent the business and arts worlds and the publisher of a St. Petersburg-focused website. The mayor joined the governor, president and elected officials across the country in assembling his own advisory panel.
“I am as eager as anyone to get St. Pete back to normal, but we must do so in a deliberate and thoughtful manner and with respect to national, state, and county decisions," Kriseman said in a statement issued Friday.
The Tampa Bay Times attempted to reach every member on the list on Friday and connected with 10. Two declined to comment. Those who did speak talked about opening back up in phases. For example, different kinds of businesses may open on different dates to allow commerce to restart while still abiding by social distancing guidelines.
But that can only happen if it can be done safely, said Michael Vivio, the former chief executive of Valpak and the owner of fitness company Corporate Fitness Works.
“My counsel is going to be to follow the science, but find ways that we can open the city and still remain safe," Vivio said. "Do it in a safe, yet pragmatic way.”
Chris Steinocher, the chief executive of the St. Pete Area Chamber of Commerce, had the most concrete recommendations for the mayor.
He cited the Opening Up America Again plan created by White House officials, saying the city could begin to reopen when it satisfied the plan’s three requirements: a downward trajectory of COVID-like symptoms within a 14-day period, a downward trajectory of confirmed cases within a 14-day period and ensuring hospitals have adequate space and resources.
After that, Steinocher said, he advocates for what he called the Four Rs: relief, reopen, recover, reimagine. Re-openings would happen in phases, he said. But many businesses will still need help to survive, reopen and recover in the form of grants, he said, like St. Petersburg’s Fighting Chance Fund.
In the meantime, Steinocher said, it’s important for St. Petersburg and Pinellas County to work out its supply chain for personal protective equipment. Replenishing those supplies will be crucial when things reopen. Demand will continue to be high.
After that, he said, the challenge will be training businesses on best safety practices and making consumers and government officials feel comfortable.
“What I’ve got to prove to the mayor is that our business community is prepared and ready and the best at it,”he said. “Our job is we’ve got to provide confidence in the consumer, and in the marketplace, and in the government, is that our businesses will operate safely.”
Meanwhile, Rev. Watson Haynes, president of the Pinellas County Urban League, stressed patience.
“This is a death warrant,” he said, referring to the virus.
Scott Smith, the president of St. Anthony’s Hospital, said his role will be gathering feedback from medical and public health experts to provide snapshots of where St. Petersburg is in the crisis.
"What does the best public health guidance (say), so it can be balanced against the collective interests and the business interest,” he said.
St. Petersburg remains under two different levels of shutdown: one from Pinellas County that is extended week to week that closes businesses that cannot abide by social distancing; the more stringent one is the statewide order from Gov. Ron DeSantis that shutters all non-essential businesses. The state’s order is set to expire April 30, unless the governor extends it.
If the county and governor’s orders aren’t renewed, then could St. Petersburg begin to reopen as soon as the end of next week. On Tuesday, Kriseman said he won’t abide by anyone else’s timeline with respect to reopening.
“We respect the role of the federal government, the state of Florida and our partnership with the county, but St. Pete will have its own decisions to make," Kriseman said during his weekly Facebook Live update on the city’s response to the coronavirus. "I intend to do that while consulting with some of St. Pete’s best and brightest.”
The mayor is scheduled to consult virtually with the members as a group next week before having individual discussions with each member privately “in accordance with social distancing orders and guidelines.” Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby said the media will be invited to listen in on the group meeting.
But the private conversations with individual advisers means Kriseman is offering less transparency into the process than DeSantis, who assembled his own statewide reopening task force. The statewide committee conducts its business via conference call while reporters and the public may call in on a listen-only line.
“The mayor solicits and/or receives candid feedback from individuals in the city all of the time,” Kirby said. “For the purposes of this public health crisis and in the spirit of transparency, he decided to make public who specifically he will be speaking to in the coming days. Had the mayor opted to form a task force or formal advisory group charged with providing group recommendations, those meetings would be held in the sunshine the way the upcoming council meeting on this topic is.”
The mayor will also receive input from the St. Petersburg City Council and “will continue to engage with our council members and residents moving forward,” according to a statement from the city.
Olga Bof, the founder of executive director of the independent business alliance Keep St. Pete Local, said she won’t be advocating for a particular position. Instead she will deliver to the mayor the perspectives of all her member businesses — from those who sell products on Etsy.com to bars and restaurants and event spaces — all of whom have different concerns.
Dexter Fabian, the publisher of St. Petersburg news, culture and events website ilovetheburg.com, said he believes he was included on the list to be a sounding board, so to speak, and offer perspective on how locals and businesses might respond to a particular action.
Restart St. Pete Advisors
• Dr. David Berman, pediatric infectious disease specialist, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital
• Olga Bof, executive director, Keep St. Petersburg Local
• Amber Boulding, St. Petersburg Emergency Management Manager
• John Collins, executive director, St. Petersburg Arts Alliance
• Duggan Cooley, CEO, Pinellas Community Foundation
• J.P. DuBuque, president and CEO, Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation
• Dexter Fabian, publisher, ilovetheburg.com
• Rene Flowers, Pinellas County School Board member
• Rev. Watson Haynes, president and CEO, Pinellas County Urban League
• Dr. Mona Mangat, member/past board chair, Doctors for America, allergist and immunologist, Bay Area Allergy and Asthma
• Jason Mathis, CEO, St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership
• Brad Miller, CEO, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority
• Scott Smith, president, St. Anthony’s Hospital
• Chris Steinocher, president and CEO, St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce
• Kanika Tomalin, City Administrator and Deputy Mayor
• Michael Vivio, CEO/owner, Corp Fitness Works
• Dr. Israel Wojnowich, physician, family medicine, Bayfront Health Medical Group
• • •
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