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Transition teams aid Kriseman decisions

ST. PETERSBURG — One day after the pomp of his swearing-in ceremony, Mayor Rick Kriseman’s era began in earnest Friday with his immediate priorities expected to be choosing a new pier, resolving the city’s dispute with the Tampa Bay Rays and boosting economic development.

The framework for how Kriseman moves forward on those issues and others is likely to come from the reports produced by his transition teams, whose recommendations include forming a new pier committee and a new express bus route linking north and south Pinellas County.

Composed of city and civic leaders handpicked by Kriseman, the teams also have recommended the city continue to poll residents on what amenities they want in a new pier and have laid out a timetable that would see a new pier open in 2017, well behind the 2015 deadline Kriseman set during his election campaign.

Still, getting broad agreement on a new pier may represent the best opportunity for Kriseman’s fledgling administration to score an early success.

If Kriseman adheres to the transition team’s proposed timetable, the city council would be asked to approve a final list of pier amenities in August, after which the city would ask interested architectural firms to submit their qualifications. Shortlisted firms would submit designs by March 2015, one of would be chosen by a selection committee of residents and design professionals.

Leaders of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the group that forced the referendum on the Lens pier design, said they had not reviewed the proposed new process, but were encouraged by Kriseman’s decision to reopen the pier head for pedestrians and anglers.

“That is a good first start,” said Bill Ballard, a group leader. “I believe that Mr. Kriseman is going to find a good path to follow and that it will be done in a way the people of St. Petersburg, for the most part, will be behind the result.”

The city’s stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays over the team’s wish to leave Tropicana Field likely will be a thornier issue for the new mayor.

The transition team that looked at the issue declared itself a fact-finding task-force and declined to make any recommendations, a reflection of the city’s legal position that the Rays must honor their use agreement that does not expire until 2027.

Its report outlines that the city and Pinellas County have spent almost $300 million paying down principal and interest on construction bonds with $57 million more still to be paid through 2026. The county’s contribution, roughly $6 million a year from bed taxes, will end in 2015.

Attendances at Rays games fell from 1.8 million in 2010 to 1.5 million last year, the lowest in Major League Baseball, the report states. Rays officials say they need a new stadium to draw more fans.

Kriseman said he expects to begin talks with team owners soon after taking office. No talks have yet been scheduled, Communications Director Ben Kirby said.

“The Rays are a top, top issue,” Kirby said. “Please stay tuned.”

Kriseman has identified the development of mass transportation as a key to driving economic development in St. Petersburg.

The transition team looking at transportation recommended the city actively back the Greenlight Pinellas plan to raise the sales tax rate to pay for a major expansion of the bus network and a new 16-mile light-rail network.

Other proposals include a north-south express bus route if there is potential ridership, encouraging businesses to offer workers incentives if they ride the bus, and unlimited free ridership for city workers covered by an annual payment to Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority by the city.

The group also proposed moving operation of the city’s controversial red-light camera program to the city’s police department.

Other transition teams have yet to finalize recommendations, Kirby said. Kriseman is likely to use the reports in his decision-making process, but will not necessarily adopt every recommendation.

“They’re producing quality information that guides the mayor’s first days, months, and even years in office,” Kirby said. “That’s why we’re giving them time to finish these reports.”

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