St. Petersburg City Council provides funds for workforce housing and arts centers

Council also called for a Red Tide state of emergency and joined a statewide opioid settlement plan.
St. Petersburg City Council members unanimously approved the appropriation of $1.4M in CARES Act funding to the Office of Cultural Affairs. Fourteen St. Pete organizations, including the Dali Museum (pictured), the Florida Holocaust Museum and the Palladium theater could receive funding.
St. Petersburg City Council members unanimously approved the appropriation of $1.4M in CARES Act funding to the Office of Cultural Affairs. Fourteen St. Pete organizations, including the Dali Museum (pictured), the Florida Holocaust Museum and the Palladium theater could receive funding. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Jul. 16, 2021

St. Petersburg’s museums and performing arts centers caught a major windfall Thursday, and affordable housing got a bump in funding, too.

City Council members allocated $1 million to a developer building affordable housing units in Edgemoor and approved the appropriation of $1.4 million in CARES Act funding to the Office of Cultural Affairs for large cultural institutions.

Council will wait until October, meanwhile, to decide whether to move toward making part of the Mirror Lake neighborhood a local historic district. And they voted to join a statewide agreement to distribute money from opioid lawsuit settlements.

As Red Tide and fish kills continue to plague Tampa Bay, council members also passed resolutions urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency and asking Pinellas County to expand fertilizer bans and share state funding.

The $1 million grant approved for developer SD St. Pete 454 will help facilitate the construction of 125 affordable housing units. The project will include 415 total units at the corner of 54th Avenue N and Fourth Street N.

“This is essentially, in my opinion, going to be a luxury apartment complex with 125 workforce units, which is just fantastic,” Neighborhood Affairs Administrator Rob Gerdes told the council’s Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee Thursday morning.

The project will cost about $97 million. In addition to St. Petersburg’s grant, Pinellas County has contributed $4 million.

“This is exactly what we’ve been looking for,” Council member Darden Rice said of the project at the committee meeting.

Both the committee and the full council unanimously approved the funding. Council member Robert Blackmon was absent from the full council vote.

Affordable housing was listed as the top priority in Mayor Rick Kriseman’s budget last year, although some community leaders said then that it wasn’t given enough funding. In 2019, the mayor announced a 10-year affordable-housing plan, which for the most part tied together existing initiatives under the banner, “For All, From All.”

Museums, arts get $1.4M in CARES funding

Council members also unanimously approved the appropriation of $1.4M in CARES Act funding to the Office of Cultural Affairs, with Blackmon absent.

The money, part of $5.4 million first allocated to Pinellas County by the federal government before being added to the city’s general fund, will help the city’s large cultural institutions recover after a pandemic year marked by closures.

The arts centers and museums bring in tourists and improve the quality of city life, cultural affairs office director Wayne Atherholt told the Tampa Bay Times. But they’ve had to make hard cuts and apply for grants to stay afloat.

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“Some of them are really quite desperate,” Atherholt said. “There’s a tremendous need there, to help them get a kick start into hopefully what is somewhat back to normal”

Fourteen organizations, including the Dali Museum, the Florida Holocaust Museum and the Palladium theater could receive funding. The qualifying museums and performing arts centers will have to apply to prove that they’ve had a loss of revenue that matches their request and can receive up to $100,000, Atherholt said.

Council punts on Mirror Lake preservation

After more than an hour of impassioned public comments, council members voted to hold off on taking a step toward establishing a local historic district in the Mirror Lake neighborhood.

The council decided to wait until October 14 to vote on whether to begin an application process to create the district.

Council member Gina Driscoll, who brought the idea of a historical district to Council, said the city should begin the process, which would include public hearings with the Community Planning and Preservation Commission and City Council.

“Starting the process doesn’t mean the end of development. It doesn’t mean the end of property owners’ rights. It means we keep having this discussion until we get it right,” Driscoll said.

But other council members raised concerns about property rights and negotiations on bringing the Second District Court of Appeals building to the area. Driscoll eventually agreed to defer the vote.

“I’m all for it if a property owner wants to designate their own property. I’m not for it if it’s a third-party designation or it’s against property owner rights,” City Council Chair Ed Montanari said.

Residents weighed in on both sides of the discussion.

Peter Belmont, who has lived downtown for nearly 25 years, said the historic designation could spur better development in the area, rather than stopping development entirely.

“It’s just not the neighborhood for those who live there and own property there,” he said of Mirror Lake. “It’s everybody’s neighborhood.”

But some residents raised concerns about how the district would affect people who own property there.

“I do believe that one can be both pro-development and maintain a strong sense of historical preservation and a sense of neighborhood without designation,” said Wendy Giffin, a St. Petersburg resident who works for the real-estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.

Giffin, who sits on the board of the nonprofit St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, said the district would hinder “positive new growth” in the area.

The initial proposal for the district is between Fifth Avenue N to the north, First Avenue N to the south, Eighth Street N to the west and Fourth Street N to the east. That could change before it’s established.

The area around Mirror Lake is already part of the Downtown St. Petersburg Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The creation of the local historic district would set up additional protections for the area’s historic character.

A unified front on opioid settlements

Council members also approved the city’s participation in a statewide plan to distribute money from settlements in lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

St. Petersburg was among local governments across the country that filed lawsuits over the harm caused by the opioid epidemic. The state attorney general’s office wants Florida’s government agencies to present a unified front in national settlement negotiations, and wants the state to pursue its own settlement if national talks fail.

Under the agreement, approximately half of any settlement money Florida receives would go to the state. Another 15% would go directly to local governments. The final 35% would go into a regional pool that could be used by county governments if they meet certain qualifications, and that otherwise would be overseen by companies chosen by the Department of Children and Families.

The money must be used to combat opioid abuse and help residents recover from addiction.

The Council’s resolution also supports the creation of a board that will decide how to use money Pinellas County gets from the regional pool. St. Petersburg would appoint one of the board’s five members.