St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch has spearheaded a month-long community-wide discussion on what residents want to include in the land development opportunity of the 86-acre Historic Gas Plant District, which is the home of Tropicana Field and the Tampa Bay Rays.
During the initial development of the Trop site, a once thriving neighborhood was displaced. Now, a significant focus of new development plans include leading with equity — in hopes of fulfilling promises made decades ago to the former residents of this neighborhood. Affordable, accessible and workforce housing were noted as top priorities along with open spaces for local talent to perform and practice, and skill-building pipelines for new jobs.
This three-part series of Community Conversations has reached some 1,000 residents and stakeholders, including more than 100 youth who will benefit from the space.
Younger residents participated as a part of a variety of local youth groups, including Cohort of Champions, S.T.O.R.Y. 727, TASCO, Mayor’s Youth Congress, Mt. Zion Progressive Youth, Lewis Stephens Campers and Midtown Youth Farm. They provided their own input on what they want to experience in the space.
Welch stated in a recent newsletter, “This multi-year project will come to completion as these young people are in early adulthood and the benefits and features will directly affect their lives as they build their careers, start families of their own and forge a path into the future in sunny St. Petersburg.”
“Youth pointed to some similar themes, including access to affordable housing, jobs, education and recreation. Of course, there were some fun ideas shared as well, including one of my favorites: Make the Dollar Store $1 again,” he continued.
During the third and final session, members of the public were invited to join together at the University of South Florida, St. Pete campus to participate in subject matter expert-guided conversations on specific priority topics: Live—housing opportunities, Work—business and job opportunities, Play/Visit—recreation, entertainment, arts & culture. These individual topics were introduced by President and CEO Mike Sutton of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties, Executive Director Alison Barlow of the St. Pete Innovation District and CEO/Co-founder Alex Harris of Arts Conservatory for Teens (ACT).
The process included three in-person events which were designed to encourage small-scaled discussions and live data collection. Participants were seated at round tables with a designated facilitator at each table leading the intimate discussions and collecting ideas and responses. Participants were also welcome to join virtually via the City’s platform.
One of the emerging themes curated from the room was to create city-owned housing to better manage rental and housing prices to combat the profit-earning goals demanded by private developers.
A challenge exists in preserving the strategic growth and sustainability of the project during shifting political priorities and leadership in the city. Residents have expressed concern that the work done during the past administration and this administration may not be honored by future leadership.
Daphne Taylor Street is a St. Petersburg-based writer.