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Rick Kriseman says state of St. Pete “strong and sunny”

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman didn’t have any major announcements at Saturday’s State of the City address. Instead, his focus was on improving conditions in South St. Pete.

For the first half of his half-hour speech, Kriseman spoke about how to improve education, lower crime, and increase opportunity in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

After a requisite thanks to City Council, city staff, and other key city leaders, Kriseman shifted focus to the seven young black men killed by gun violence in South St. Pete at the end of 2015.

“What means most to me is people’s lives,” Kriseman said echoing remarks he made this month at the Carter G. Woodson African-American History museum.

The mayor listed initiatives the city has already implemented,  such as banning the box so ex-felons don’t have to indicate criminal history on city job applications, providing better paid leave, and securing a strong wage-theft ordinance.

Kriseman touted increasing the city’s minimum wage to $12.50 with plans to increase it to $15 by 2020. He also praised career opportunity initiatives for young people including the partnership with the St. Petersburg Police Department to provide college-level classes and law enforcement training at Lakewood High School.

Kriseman, though, acknowledged there’s still much to do.

“We know that breaking the cycle of poverty … requires a long-term approach,” Kriseman said.

While he focused on positives already accomplished, Kriseman didn’t mention specific plans laid out this month that included a promise to carve out $1 million in this year’s budget to begin work on four key areas in South St. Pete.

Kriseman did refer to another funding mechanism South of Central. In touting the recent deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, Kriseman reminded the packed Palladium Theater crowd that he’s pledging at least $5 million to South St. Pete from revenue from the Tampa Bay Rays.

That money could come from an early termination fee the team must pay if it decides to leave St. Pete prior to 2028 after the current Use Agreement on Tropicana Field expires. It could also rise from development proceeds on the 85-acres of land the city can now begin plans for development.

Kriseman’s intended Southside funding boost was greeted by raucous cheers.

However, the Rays issue has been among the most contentious of Kriseman’s administration. In December 2014 he initially made an agreement with the Rays to allow it to begin exploring stadium sites outside St. Pete in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. A divided council, though, rejected that plan.

Now Kriseman looks forward to development plans for the site, and disclosed his “baseball forever” campaign consisting of a partnership among the city, the Chamber of Commerce and other city stakeholders. The idea is to explore best uses for the Trop site and ways to keep baseball in St. Pete beyond 2028.

Kriseman also praised increased recycling in his “Sunshine City” by noting the program has exceeded expectations.

“Not only are we recycling at greater-than-expected numbers, but we are recycling wisely,” Kriseman said.

He said the city estimated contamination rates in the city’s recycling program at as much as 20 percent. Initial analysis of the program about six months in has that number at just 7 percent.

Kriseman said next week’s start of alley recycling in traditional neighborhoods is expected to increase participation rates even more.

The Mayor only touched on the recycling issue, but it topped the issues in a Facebook poll on State of the City Address. Nearly 130 people indicated it was the city’s most tangible progress in 2015.

The next issue for Kriseman’s State of the City speeches was  funding announcement last year for a new police headquarters. The Tampa Bay Rays pact surveyed dead last.

Kriseman in the Palladium Theater instead of on City Hall’s steps  because of cold weather and high winds. Despite that, he announced the state of the city as “strong and sunny.”

As he did so with a raspy voice, he told his constituents he’d attended a Billy Joel concert Friday night.

Playing off his recent 15 minutes of fame, Kriseman also declared the city Trump-free.

Also attending Kriseman’s speech were U.S. Rep. David Jolly, County Commissioner Ken Welch, and City Council members.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email [email protected]

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