1. A SAFER CITY – Our city’s crime rate continues to drop year after year, and this year is no exception. The latest crime stats show that total crime is down 4.2 percent from 2011, and violent crime is 10.7 percent lower. In Midtown, total crime is down 5.6 percent. We’re running 18.6 percent below the city’s five-year crime rate average. This is not by accident. Our Police Department was the sixth agency in the United States to be accredited, and has been re-accredited this year. On behalf of our citizens, I’d like to thank the men and women of the St. Petersburg Police Department for their commitment to protect us and keep the city safe, and also say thanks to citizens who work to reduce crime through their neighborhood crime watch organizations.
2. FISCAL YEAR 2013 BUDGET PROCESS – I never thought I would give thanks for this year’s budget. It was an extremely tough year, and required difficult analysis, reductions and strategies to create a balanced budget for the 2013 fiscal year. A major difference this year, however, was the thoughtful, grass roots participation of the People’s Budget Review. Through an online survey, more than 5,000 citizens provided valuable input to me and members of City Council as to how they wanted their tax dollars spent. I wish to thank those who organized the People’s Budget Review, and those that participated as well as those who came out to our public budget forums. My wish for the year to come is that the same thoughtful approach will be applied not only to next year’s budget process, but also to other city issues, such as the new St. Petersburg Pier. When resources are scarce, it is so important to hear from a wide cross-section of our citizens.
3. SIGNS OF A REBOUNDING ECONOMY – This year, we permitted $311 million in new construction projects underway in St. Petersburg. That is a 54 percent increase over last year’s total of $201,693,741, and the most active year since 2007. Some of the exciting new developments include a new boutique hotel at the Grayl property on Beach Drive, a large market-rate apartment complex, Sam’s Club, new facility expansions in our medical cluster, a bank under construction on Central Avenue, and the new ASI headquarters on MLK Street N. on the former K-Mart site. I’d like to thank investors and those in the development community for recognizing that St. Petersburg is one of the brightest spots on Florida’s Gulf coast and remains a leader in fostering vibrant economic growth.
4. NO. 1 DESTINATON FOR THE ARTS – Three years in a row, St. Petersburg has been voted the No. 1 destination for the arts for cities of its size. Our cultural climate continues to get better and better. Recently, the St. Petersburg Opera Company purchased a new facility in the city’s expanding Warehouse Arts District. Mr. Bill Edwards and his company, Big 3 Entertainment, have pumped new life into the Mahaffey Theater, even attracting a world class Titanic Exhibit. Cirque du Soleil has returned this holiday season with one of its signature productions. I’d like to thank our partners in the arts community who share the same creative commitment to St. Petersburg that has always defined our city as a destination for arts and culture.
5. A GREAT CITY FOR YOUNG PEOPLE – For the sixth time, St. Petersburg was named by America’s Promise Alliance as of the100 Best Communities for Young People. Our city continues to serve as a model for other communities around the nation for the way we approach providing city services for our youth and supporting our public schools. The city does a terrific job in serving our young people. This year, attendance at our parks and recreation facilities, teen programs, pools, before and after school care, therapeutic recreation, nature programs and sports leagues topped 2 million! Our Parks and Recreation Department is one of just 108 agencies in the U.S. to receive national accreditation. We also have developed a mentoring initiative, and as a result, nearly 500 mentors are paired with students in our city schools. Over the past decade, we have raised more than $10 million to fund more than 1,000 Doorways Scholarships. I’d like to thank city staff, the Pinellas Education Foundation, our mentoring corporate partners, and all those in our community who join with us in helping bring out the best in our young people to ensure a bright future for them and our city.