No matter where you look in St. Petersburg, you see signs of a thriving, growing economy, Mayor Rick Kriseman said Monday.
That’s true, he said, whether you look at south St. Petersburg, the Tyrone area, the Skyway district or the Gateway area. Every section of the city is showing signs of economic growth.
“It isn’t just in downtown,” Kriseman said. “A vibrant city has economic development happening all over.”
Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin agreed, saying, “St. Petersburg’s economic landscape is on fire. … We’re only on the cusp of what’s possible.”
Kriseman and Tomalin were talking Monday to a room full of business and political leaders at the mayor’s second annual state of the economy presentation. The presentation looked at the city’s economic growth from the standpoint of data as well as projects in the city.
A snapshot of St. Pete’s population shows a 5 percent increase in growth – or about 28,000 more residents – since 2010. Those residents, and the population as a whole, tend to be well educated and younger than in the past. St. Petersburg has pockets of poverty throughout its municipal area, but overall, it has the second lowest poverty rate among Florida’s major cities.
That population growth has spurred a residential building boom – of the $654 million in permitted new construction during the past year, almost half – 42 percent – was residential.
Kriseman said some have questioned the amount of residential development in light of the city’s sewer issues. The city has been fined for dumping thousands of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into the bay during two tropical storms this year. And the city is facing a multi-year, multi-million dollar program to remedy the problems.
The mayor said the residential development has no impact on the city’s sewer issues.
“We don’t have a sewer problem,” Kriseman said. “What we have … is a rainwater and groundwater problem.”
Had there been no new development, he said, the city’s sewers still would have overflowed this past year because of the infiltration of rainwater and groundwater into cracked and broken pipes.
He added that the residential construction is needed because it will bring in more tax money to pay for repairs and upgrades to the system.
Kriseman again touched on the sewer issue when he spoke about redeveloping the Pier. The city has already sold bonds to finance the new pier and has put about $62 million in escrow. Laws prohibit the city borrowing for one item and spending the money on another. And, he said, it would cost St. Petersburg about $35 million to buy back the bonds prematurely. That, he said, makes no sense.
“We will have a pier,” Kriseman said. “We are going to build a pier.”