Mayor Kriseman praises St. Pete's progress in State of City

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman wasted no time addressing his city's faults at Saturday's State of the City address.

He said while crime, including homicides, is down in the city, the fatal shootings of seven teenage boys in late 2015 shined a light on St. Petersburg’s gun violence issue.

"We're a safe city...but statistics and progress reports provide no comfort to the mother who finds her son face down in an alley," said Kriseman to a crowd of nearly 500 at the Palladium theater.

Kriseman said the city is taking steps to reach troubled youth, including those in troubled schools, before it's too late.

"I don't want anything called a failure factory in my city," said Kriseman, referencing a report that highlighted five under-performing schools on the city's impoverished south side.

He called for residents, including those without children, to find ways to get involved in their local public schools, from volunteering for the PTA boards to assisting with after school care.

The city plans to invest $885,000 this year to services targeting at-risk youth.

Participation is growing in the current youth employment program. Kriseman said 478 teenagers found jobs through the program in 2015, a more than 70 percent increase from the 277 teens helped in 2014.

Despite its flaws, Mayor Kriseman said the Sunshine City has a lot to offer both its residents and businesses, particularly the Tampa Bay Rays, as the team considers a move from St. Pete.

"In the coming years, more and more people will be living within walking and biking distance of our team's current location. In fact, 2,383 residential units are currently under construction or being planned for our downtown," said Kriseman.

He also noted that boarded up properties have decreased by 45 percent, further highlighting that St. Pete is a growing and thriving city that can benefit the team economically if it chooses to rebuild a new stadium within the city.

"I, of course, still believe that the team's current site, re-imagined and redeveloped is the best place for a new stadium," said Kriseman. "Now our focus must shift to developing a master plan for the Trop site, and keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg forever."

The mayor said he will soon announce the plan for a “Baseball Forever" campaign, including  St. Pete-based baseball fans, business leaders and elected officials.

Supporters are expected to find ways to pitch the city to the Tampa Bay Rays by demonstrating future fan support and the benefits of remaining on the current site.

The mayor addressed the possibility of team leaving as well.

"We will have the unique opportunity to transform 85-acres of urban land, and the team will still just be a short drive away. We will also receive up to $24 million of compensation from the team."

Kriseman has already committed at least $5 million of those funds towards efforts in South St. Pete.

"The bottom line is that this is a win-win, and I can assure you that St. Petersburg will come out on top," said Kriseman.

He spoke on how much the city has progressed within the last year, from having its first gay and lesbian marriages at City Hall, one of which he officiated, to its new recycling program, which is expected to better serve more than 30,000 residents in the historic neighborhoods come Monday, January 25, when alleyway pickup will become easier.

The mayor addressed his concerns with climate change and growing sea levels, saying the city needs to be proactive in addressing the issue.

"I remain hopeful that city council will use a portion of our BP settlement to fund my recommendations for a professional, comprehensive resiliency plan and climate action plan," said Kriseman.

Nearly $500,000 of the BP funds is expected to go to a new bike share program in the city.

"One of the best things to do with BP Money is to use it against BP by getting people out of cars," said Kriseman.

As construction work continues on the new pier, the mayor noted that a water ferry service from St. Pete to downtown Tampa will also be added to the waterfront, in hopes of bringing more tourism to the city.

"The new St. Pete Pier will truly be the 'People's Pier.' There will be something for everyone," said Kriseman. "It will once again be the crown jewel of St. Petersburg, and more specifically, our new Pier District, the first phase of our waterfront master plan."