Innovation District takes shape in St. Pete

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The new name "Innovation District" is catching on in St. Petersburg.

It is used in marketing materials for The Salvador, a high rise condominium under construction near the Dali Museum.  

"We were looking for a way to describe this part of downtown. When you say 'downtown St. Petersburg' it's such a broad area," Smith & Associates Real Estate's David Moyer explained. "We were trying to paint the picture of the Innovation District, and the people that are around this area."

St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin invoked the name a couple of times at a groundbreaking Friday morning.  "We are here on the eve of the awakening of the St. Pete Innovation District, the cradle of our city's scientific advancements, industry-propelling ingenuity and standard-setting discovery," she told the crowd.

The ceremony Friday was for a new 225,000 square foot medical research and education building at All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The prestigious Baltimore institution assumed control of the hospital several years ago, long before the city adopted the new name for the district.

"We were buying [into] a community that was committed to actually delivering the best care, and teaching residents how to do great care and then doing best science," President and physician-in-chief Dr. Jonathan Ellen told FOX 13 News.

There were already a couple of thousand research scientists working in downtown St. Petersburg.  "They create a community up and down this street here where you have people who will ask questions they never thought about just because they're in proximity to other people who like to ask questions- and that's where real innovation comes from," Ellen said.

A cluster of marine science entities has been growing larger for decades, as have the medical entities to the east, with USF-St. Pete in between.  The totality is not as incongruous as one might think.

"In science there's this concept called warm, salty, wet," Tomalin explained, "The idea is that the environment of marine research is very much like the environment of biology."  The deputy mayor said a study by the city and the Chamber of Commerce identified the organically-grown innovation district as the best opportunity for economic development.

That is now evidenced by the addition at All Children's, which will need a couple of hundred new employees when the new building opens in 2018.  "Everything from laboratory technicians to new clinical scientists that we will go out and recruit from around the country to come to St. Petersburg and do this kind of work," Dr. Ellen said.