tbo: Tampa Bay Online.
Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
  • Home
News Roundup

For Kriseman, second term means finishing what he's started, experimenting

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman says he is ready to put a recent nasty re-election fight behind him and, continuing a theme from the campaign, is looking to the future.

In an interview last week, he said he is relishing the chance to see big projects to the finish line and hinted at a second term of bold experimentation.

The mayor said he often relates an anecdote he heard from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg about chatting with newly hired city workers.

"As a scientist you try to experiment. If those experiments don't work, the scientific community considers that to be a positive because you've added to science," Kriseman said. "You know that it doesn't work."

He hopes to bring a similar attitude to his second term.

So, is the mayor working on anything in the City Hall laboratory that he's ready to unveil?

"Nothing that I'm ready to share yet," Kriseman said with a chuckle.

The 55-year-old Democrat does have plenty of projects, in the public eye for years, that he's eager to see finished. That includes the new pier and police headquarters, both of which should be ready by the spring of 2019.

"Even with the hurricane, both are on schedule, both are on time. We might see them get done early, which would be lovely, but I'm not going to promise that," Kriseman said.

Another thing high on the to-do list: continuing to upgrade the city's beleaguered sewer system, at a cost of up to $326 million under terms of a consent decree with the state.

Perhaps the biggest wildcard during Kriseman's next term will be the redevelopment of Tropicana Field's 85 acres.

The Tampa Bay Rays haven't made a decision on a new ballpark site yet. They could yet decide to push for a new stadium at their current home. But if they do decide to leave the Trop site for Tampa, Kriseman said his relationship with team owner Stuart Sternberg and Rays executives (who donated at least $81,000 to his campaign) will help the city move quickly to get started on what would be one of the largest urban makeovers in recent years.

It will still take several years to build a new stadium. If the team opts to leave Tropicana Field, Kriseman thinks the limbo period would go smoothly. The Rays have the right to veto development as long as they play at the Trop, but the mayor doesn't see that happening.

"I don't see them being obstinate just to be obstinate," Kriseman said. "They want to be good community partners. Absolutely, it does benefit the residents of St. Pete that I have a good relationship with them."

Big-ticket items aside, Kriseman was eager to highlight his plans to ratchet up his poverty-fighting efforts, especially in the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area.

Recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics show a large drop in poverty among the city's black residents, many of whom live within the CRA boundaries, in the last three years.

Moving from grants for exterior beautification of buildings within the CRA, which covers much of Midtown, Childs Park and other southern neighborhoods, to programs that will emphasize job training and economic development will be one way to continue that trend, he said.

"I really believe the numbers we're seeing are positive and it indicates that (the CRA) is starting to have an effect," Kriseman said. "I want to continue making those investments. If we do economic development really well, hopefully, we'll also do poverty eradication really well."

During the campaign, Kriseman frequently touted his commitment to getting the city ready to combat rising seas and other effects of climate change. Those types of sustainability projects will be another point of emphasis.

As an action plan is mapped out, the mayor has a more immediate boon for his environmentalist supporters: LED streetlights.

The city is currently negotiating a switch with Duke Energy, Kriseman said, adding that a formal announcement should come before the end of the year.

Using far less power and casting less light pollution than conventional street lights, LED lighting has been a long-standing crusade of City Council member Karl Nurse, who said he expects Kriseman to hit his full stride during the next four years.

"The front-end work, the policy's been done and it's starting to show results," Nurse said after the Nov. 7 election. "Most of the real impact hasn't happened yet. It's translating vision and goals into hard, tangible stuff."

Another council member, Charlie Gerdes, a Kriseman ally who supports many of the mayor's initiatives, wants to make sure that his vision doesn't bust the bank. He listed finishing wastewater upgrades and facilitating the momentum of the CRA as priorities, but said tough decisions will have to be made on spending.

"We have to make sure we're spending in the right places and keep our eye clearly on the ball," Gerdes said.

Council chairwoman Darden Rice said where Kriseman decides to use his political capital over the next four years will have generational effects, especially for how the city confronts climate change and infrastructure challenges.

"It'll set the tone for the city for the next 25 years," she said.

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727)893-8459. [email protected]

Weather Center