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Toast of the Bay/Dump into the Bay: St. Pete Chamber and Bike Share

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Toast to the Bay: St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce

The St. Pete Chamber this week celebrated a fruitful 2015 at the Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Pete among more than 1,000 members. The backdrop was a theater thriving in a booming downtown. All things that make the Chamber and its president, Chris Steinocher, very, very happy.

The group welcomed 333 new members in 2015, a record-breaking year for them. Steinocher participated in 42 ribbon cuttings representing 42 new businesses to the city. And he’s pretty sure that’s not even the full number.

2015 was a year of successes for Chamber-backed priorities. A deal was reached with the Tampa Bay Rays (though technically that was early 2016), a decision was made on the Pier and the process is moving forward minus the many ails of 2012 and 2013, the downtown waterfront master plan became a reality and bus rapid transit for Central Avenue was funded through the Florida Department of Transportation.

The Chamber even opened its own store to promote tourism and locally produced goods called the St. Pete store.

Amid all of its successes, and those are just to name a few, the Chamber also has plenty to look forward to in 2016.

During its annual meeting Thursday night, the gavel was passed to longtime St. Pete leader Greg Holden, who has grand plans for the coming year as chair of the board. And he’s creating a new initiative — “Thinking outside the ‘Burg.” He’ll travel with other city leaders this year to Raleigh, North Carolina to learn best practices to add to the group’s already stacked repertoire.

The Chamber is also partnering with Mayor Rick Kriseman to ensure baseball stays in St. Pete. It’s part of Kriseman and Steinocher’s goal to entice the Tampa Bay Rays to choose St. Pete for the site of a new stadium even as the team now has the authority to look outside the city in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties.

Raise a glass Chamber folks — to 2015 and a new year full of possibility.

Dump into the Bay: Bike Share

It was a somber week for bike-share enthusiasts. Supporters of a $1.5 million plan to bring 30 bike share stations, with 300 bikes to parts of St. Pete in and around downtown, began the week optimistic that St. Pete City Council would voice adequate support for funding the priority.

Supported by Mayor Rick Kriseman, who initially proposed using $1 million out of the $6.5 million awarded to the city through the BP oil spill settlement to launch the program.

Preliminary discussions about it among council showed lackluster support for spending such a large chunk of BP funds on the program. As concerns came to a boil over the city’s aging wastewater infrastructure after inadequacies forced the city to dump millions of gallons of raw sewage into Tampa Bay, the Eckerd College campus and Clam Bayou, some council members wondered if bike share was the best use of those funds.

City staff, taking that under advisement, identified a way to reduce the ask to just $500,000. The total $1.5 million project would be funded at $500,000 each between BP money and parking and impact fees. The lower dollar figure left supporters and likely the Kriseman administration confident in gaining the support needed to appropriate the funding.

But during a workshop Thursday, City Council still appeared unsure. While a final decision was not made, City Council members Karl Nurse, Jim Kennedy and Steve Kornell still weren’t sold. Newly-elected council member Ed Montanari also hinted he may have some concerns. Only Darden Rice showed firm support for the plan with Amy Foster seeming supportive, but still guarded. Lisa Wheeler-Brown was ambivalent asking just that if bike share happens, stations be placed south of Central.

The issue was moved to a Public Services and Infrastructure Committee meeting for further discussion next month.

Still, the lack of support even after cutting the BP ask in half has to be unnerving for supporters and Cycle Hop, the company chosen to manage the program if it’s funded.

Supporters will have an uphill battle on their hands convincing what seems to be a still-reluctant council on funding the program when there are still so many other issues in the city awaiting funding.

At some point, bike share, we may raise our glass in a Toast to the Bay, but unfortunately for you this week, you get the dump. Sorry guys.

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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