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St. Pete Chamber of Commerce celebrates 2015 as year of successes, looks to 2016

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated a productive 2015 during its annual meeting Thursday night at Mahaffey Theater. Batons were passed. Backs were patted. New ideas were shared.

The meeting hosted more than 1,000 Chamber members in an ornate format. The stage was set with LED illuminated podiums and laser light blocks on each side with a giant screen zoomed in on 2015 Chamber Chairman Bill Ulbricht as he handed the gavel over to his successor, Greg Holden.

“In 2016, together, we’re going to get a lot done,” Holden said from behind his token bow tie. “I’m asking you to join me in thinking big.”

Holden announced a new initiative for 2016. He’s beginning what he hopes will become an annual event called “Thinking Outside the ‘Burg.” This year, Holden along with business leaders and elected officials, including Mayor Rick Kriseman, will travel on a “benchmarking” trip to Raleigh, North Carolina.

“It’s an opportunity to … allow us to see first hand a successful chamber model,” Holden said.

That’s not to imply St. Pete’s Chamber has,’t been successful. In 2015, the Chamber welcomed 333 new members and CEO Chris Steinocher attended so many ribbon cuttings he lost count. He got into the 40s, but realized that number seemed entirely too low.

Steinocher had so many “bright spots” to recount, he turned to technology to narrow the field. Members were given lists of areas of accomplishment in 2015 — like Chief’s Creole Café surviving its first year in midtown, the downtown waterfront master plan, Skyway Marina District improvements, and movement on the long-stagnant Pier issue. They were then asked to text what they’d like to hear more about.

All Children’s Hospital won as a result of its plans to expand with a seven-story education and research tower.

Then Steinocher asked the same question of the Chamber’s many task forces and committees. The St. Pete Young Professionals and Leadership St. Pete groups took away that honor beating out signature events committees, the diversity and inclusiveness task force, education task force, transportation task force, legislative task force, waterfront master plan and Pier task forces, economic development groups, the BB & T Entrepreneurial Academy, and visitors promotions groups.

Leadership St. Pete is a six-month class of professionals aimed at building leadership skills for various forms of future public service. The class takes on a community service project each year. This year, the class will work with the Alpha House crisis pregnancy center that houses mothers with nowhere else to turn.

Kriseman lauded the Chamber’s accomplishments throughout 2015 and looked forward to continued partnerships this year. He’s particularly excited about the newly announced venture between his office and the Chamber to prove baseball’s viability in St. Pete.

Kriseman will work with Steinocher and his group on a task force created to sell St. Pete as the best place for the Tampa Bay Rays, now that they have permission to explore alternative stadium locations outside of St. Pete in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

“We can’t do it alone. It’s going to take the entire community, particularly the business community,” Kriseman said.

He implored businesses and business leaders to answer the call to buy tickets to games, season tickets, or even company boxes.

The Rays’ struggle with attendance has long been attributed to low participation among local corporations and lacking access to businesses. Tampa was originally sold as a site that would provide more access to professionals who could catch a game after work.

Kriseman also thanked the Chamber for its work in helping to expand the success of downtown St. Pete into outlying areas like the Edge District, Grand Central and the Deuces.

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 Patch.com 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 janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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