St. Petersburg City Council moves ahead on community benefit agreement

Council members also heard a report on building inspections and lowered the cost threshold for contracts to be subject to their approval.
St. Petersburg City Hall. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
St. Petersburg City Hall. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published July 8, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — City Council members on Thursday moved forward on a measure that would require developers who get significant city funding to reinvest in the community.

Council voted unanimously to hold a July 22 public hearing on a proposed “community benefit agreement” for development and redevelopment projects that cost $2 million or more and receive city money equal to 20% or more of their cost, or $10 million regardless of cost. Projects that get more funding would come with higher requirements for developers.

At higher levels of funding, developers would have to build new affordable or workforce housing, or pay into a special fund for those projects. They would also have to pay into the fund to help improve local schools and renovate historic buildings, among other priorities.

Developers would also have to hold public meetings about projects. Depending on how much funding a project receives, other requirements would include providing job training and paying employees who work on the project a “responsible wage” determined by a living-wage calculator and local ordinances.

Certain projects would be exempt, including some that include affordable housing.

The proposal prevents the Tropicana Field redevelopment project from qualifying for exemptions. Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman has advocated for an agreement to have funds raised from the Trop development benefit poorer areas of the city.

Council members on Thursday also heard a presentation about building inspections and lowered the cost threshold for contracts to be subject to their approval.

St. Petersburg NAACP President Esther Eugene spoke in favor of the community benefit agreement at Thursday’s Council meeting, noting that it aligned with the NAACP’s goal of economic sustainability.

“Each person, each resident in our city should be able to benefit from the economic development and the economic growth taking place within our city,” Eugene said.

Some council members raised concerns about details of the proposal. Darden Rice noted that some of the language was unspecific, like the requirement for public meetings.

City development coordinator Alan DeLisle said the city would draft more detailed rules if the agreement were approved.

“We will work with the developer to make sure that this isn’t just something that they flippantly do,” DeLisle said of the meeting requirement.

Report on building inspections

Building Official Don Tyre gave a presentation on building inspection in St. Petersburg. Rice had requested the report after the Champlain Towers South condominium collapsed in Surfside.

Tyre detailed the city’s inspection process, and noted that any regulatory changes have to wait until the investigation is finished into what caused the Champlain Towers collapse. That process could take six months to a year, he said, adding a change in state rules is likely.

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Council voted unanimously to request that Tyre report to them once there’s more information about what caused the Surfside collapse.

A change to contract rules

Council members voted to lower the contract threshold for Council approval to $75,000, from $100,000.

Council Chair Ed Montanari had pushed the measure after Mayor Rick Kriseman hired a consultant for $99,000, just below the old threshold, to evaluate proposals from developers for the Tropicana Field redevelopment. Montanari said at the time that Kriseman was clearly attempting to bypass Council, which Kriseman denied.

“This was City Council’s reaction to the administration basically going around City Council’s prerogative as the keeper of the city’s checkbook,” Montanari told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday.

Nobody from Kriseman’s administration spoke on the measure at Thursday’s meeting, and mayor’s office spokesperson Ben Kirby declined to comment to the Times.

The measure passed in a 6-1 vote, with Deborah Figgs-Sanders voting no and Darden Rice not voting.

Montanari noted on Thursday that Council members could have reduced the threshold as much as they wanted.

“This was a modest reaction,” he said.