ST. PETERSBURG — Announcing plans for a new police headquarters and offering a broad agenda for spreading downtown’s economic boom to all quarters of the city, Mayor Rick Kriseman gave a sunny assessment of his first year in office at a public address on the steps of City Hall Saturday morning.
An agreement to reallocate $20 million in county Penny for Pinellas sales tax money would allow the city to build the $70-million facility directly across the street from the existing station on First Avenue North – with no additional burden to city taxpayers, Kriseman said to a crowd of about 300 people.
Bringing that agreement before City Council and building the much-needed station would will be a top priority, the mayor said, and one that has posed a challenge to the city for years, along with another big project that has been passed through two previous administrations: a new downtown St. Petersburg pier.
“I’m the third mayor to contend with this issue and I’m determined to be the last,” he said of The Pier.
Kriseman also expressed confidence about reaching a stadium agreement with the Tampa Bay Rays that would protect the city’s development rights for the Tropicana Field site. The council last month rejected the mayor’s deal with the team.
Hiring a new community-minded police chief, Anthony Holloway, spurring development in often neglected south St. Petersburg and promoting issues such as LGBT rights and a higher minimum wage for municipal employees were among accomplishments the mayor listed in his first “State of the City” address.
Providence seemed to favor the mayor’s Saturday morning speech on what began as a cool, blustery morning.
No sooner had City Council Chair Charlie Gerdes introduced the mayor than a ray of sunshine broke through gray cloud cover, backing up the mayor’s frequent slogan for the city, “The sun shines here.”
Kriseman said the “sun” was beginning to shine on all parts of the city and old divisions between downtown St. Petersburg and the south side were beginning to fade.
“A seamless city calls for blurred lines. In fact, it is a requirement. And I am pleased to see lines and boundaries throughout the city being eliminated at a rapid pace,” he said.
“Many of the faces I see downtown at Paper Street Market are the same faces we see at Brocante Market on 22nd Street South,” comparing two small businesses in disparate parts of the city.
The mayor’s speech – and first-year performance – received positive reviews from people who came out Saturday morning.
“He’s being inclusive with gay rights, with the south side and all of those issues are really important and I think he’s trying to bring this city together again,” said George Medeiros, an artist who lives in St. Petersburg.
The mayor’s promise to post budget data on the city’s website was also heartening to Medeiros, who said Kriseman has done a good job of making himself and city government accessible to residents.
“You need to have your mayor visible, whether he’s doing right, wrong, doing a good job or not,” he said.
The mayor’s proposal to jumpstart a new police station also proved popular.
“Everybody knows the building has been outdated for a while. They’re the ones saving our city right now, protecting our city, so why don’t we protect the people that are protecting us?” said Steven Brown.
Replacing the building, the bulk of which is 65 years old, is long overdue, but the expense has kept the work from going forward in the past, city council member Karl Nurse said after the mayor’s speech.
“The working conditions in the police department are grim and it’s just something that we’ve dragged our heels on because it’s a lot of money,” he said.
City Council member Wengay Newton says he is waiting to hear details of the mayor’s agreement with the county before making up his mind about whether the city can afford to build a new station.
Kriseman said the $20 million in county funds already were committed to the city and could be reallocated without additional taxes or fees, but Newton wants to know what may be sacrificed if those funds are moved.
“This morning he’s talking about how to divert it from other projects. I’m just worrying: are those projects in the area of greatest need, namely my district, 7, and the south side?” he said.
“The devil is in the details,” he added.