State of the City Recap

Summary of the State of the City

The document is a speech titled State of the City and discusses various initiatives and developments in St. Petersburg. Key topics include:

  1. Education and Youth Opportunities: Launch of the Mayor’s Future Ready Academy for job training, expansion of youth programs like ‘Not My Child’ and ‘Cohort of Champions’, and investments in literacy and youth employment.
  2. Equitable Development, Arts, and Business Opportunities: Focus on inclusive economic development, support for minority and women-owned businesses, and arts funding.
  3. Healthy and Safe Neighborhoods: Programs for food access, public safety innovations like the Community Assistance and Life Liaison Program, and initiatives to improve neighborhood safety and health.
  4. Housing Opportunities for All: Development of affordable housing units, support for first-time homebuyers, and zoning changes to facilitate housing access.
  5. Environment, Infrastructure, and Resilience: Efforts to combat sea level rise, invest in stormwater infrastructure, and protect the environment.
  6. Community Engagement and Partnerships: Emphasis on partnerships for economic development, infrastructure investments, and community engagement initiatives.

The “State of the City” speech includes several key statistics highlighting the progress and initiatives in St. Petersburg:

  1. Zoning and Housing: 2,895 properties were rezoned to allow increased housing units on single-family lots, resulting in the completion of 43 accessory dwelling units (ADUs). In the past decade, only 36 ADUs were completed. Additionally, $5.9 million was allocated for renter assistance and affordable rental housing construction.
  2. Economic Growth: The city experienced new construction valued at $1.37 billion last year, the second highest ever, and issued more than 32,000 permits.
  3. Investment and Jobs: There is a planned investment of $6.5 billion, which is projected to create 37,000 jobs, alongside 1,200 units of affordable and workforce housing, and a $500 million commitment to minority participation.
  4. Community Assistance and Life Liaison Program (CALL): The program has reached 10,000 contacts, demonstrating its effectiveness in community-centric policing by directing certain non-violent calls to social workers.
  5. Affordable Housing Initiatives: The Affordable Lot Disposition Program sold 10 city-owned single-family lots to qualified families, created 13 affordable single-family homes for those earning less than 120% of the area median income, assisted 58 first-time home buyers, and provided homebuyer education to 222 households. Additionally, 49 homeowners were assisted with substantial rehabilitation, and a total of $1.8 million in funding was expended to support these initiatives.

The speech also acknowledges contributions of various city employees and highlights ongoing and upcoming projects like the redevelopment of the historic Gas Plant District and infrastructure improvements.

Transcript of the State of the City Speech

Good morning, St. Pete. How are y’all doing? You all look fantastic. Thank you, Chairperson Sanders. I didn’t know she was such a big wrestling fan until this weekend. Oh, you should be more respectful, Madam Chairperson. To everyone here today, to Vice Chairperson Gerdy, I can’t see anything with the lights up here. To our City Council, our elected officials, our community members who are here today, our community and faith leaders, members of our business and arts communities, and also to the members of our St. Pete team, our dedicated employees. It’s an honor to be here with you. Thank you for being here this morning. First, let’s show some love to our students from Jamerson Elementary. Jayhawks.

And boy, St. Pete’s Green Bevels Jazz Band is incredible.

Thank you all for being here.

Also, we want to thank all of our virtual friends visiting us and watching this on Facebook Live. Thank you for joining us here today. And thank you to the Palladium. What a great venue here. Thank you for hosting us today.

So look, all of our elected officials and many who work for city government know that when you serve, your entire family serves as well. So, I want to recognize my family members who are with us today. I want to recognize my mom, Lifa.

My wife of 33 years, sometimes thinks she’s my mom, Donna.

Well, I’m Steve. I’m up here. Councilmember Muhammad, I’m saying. And my sister Katrina, who’s with us today as well.

I know my daughters and other family members are watching on Facebook Live. I thank you all so much. I love you all. Thank you for your love and support. Look, St. Pete, it’s an exciting time to be in the best city in America. 

Do you agree?

The opportunities before us, the challenges, are truly generational and exceptional. And I believe that our approach to addressing those issues, based on our beliefs, our principles, and focused on community impact, is moving us forward with purpose and unity on a path of inclusive progress for all in our city. The state of our city reflects those principles, our way of work, how we govern, and who we are. We are an inclusive city of many religions, races, ethnicities, abilities, identities, and orientations. We welcome our diversity as foundational to the vibrancy, strength, and capacity of our community. We are in touch. We love to be together, with our gatherings on the downtown waterfront, to the markets and parks, and yes, of course, coffee shops across our city. We value the opportunity to come together as an urban village, face-to-face as one community. We’re innovative, from new approaches to affordable housing, to new technologies and processes to make our service delivery more efficient and effective. Innovation is central to the work of our St. Pete team. From cloud computing to AI, we will continue to explore the latest technologies to improve our service delivery and our operations. We are intentional, dedicated to the application of inclusion and equal opportunity in everything that we do. We remain committed to inclusion for all. And we will strive to maintain our perfect score on the Human Rights Index, which we achieved last year for the 10th year in a row.

Our new Office of Equity and the newly approved Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise Program were both created within that intentional framework. We respect and recognize the lived history and experience of the residents of our city. We will not ignore nor recreate our history.

But rather we will embrace our true history and learn from it. And with that knowledge, we will build a foundation for a better, more equitable future for everyone in our city, strategically and intentionally. Now that approach has guided our development of the historic Gas Plant in a manner that honors the history of that land and our shared priorities for our future. And today, we’re honored to have several descendants of the Gas Plant neighborhood with us this morning. And if you’re here, if you could just wave your hand or stand up: Mildred Kennedy, right in front of me.

Okay, Mary Murph, Andrew Walker, Linda Mack Bevins, Kenneth Mack, Ruben Maze, Shirley Hayes, Steve Scruggs, Maria Scruggs, Val Haines, and Ms. Reefs. Let’s show some love to the descendants of the historic Gas Plant.

I also see Pastor Jordan and his spouse here with us today as well. Thank you for keeping the legacy and the history of the Gas Plant community alive. We are also informed in our decision-making. We’re informed by history, by data, by facts, and by science. The facts are especially important as we face the challenges of our changing environment, housing affordability, public safety, and other pressing issues. We simply cannot afford to be distracted by extreme partisanship or misinformation. And finally, we are focused on community impact. At the end of the day, every policy, service, or initiative must be impactful with positive action and results for the citizens of St. Petersburg. It is that impact, those positive outcomes, that will move us forward and achieve inclusive progress for our city. And that impact should be manifest. It should be tangible, seen, and felt in every part of our city. We categorize our work into five service areas, or pillars, for progress. Just like the pillars in this room that are holding up the building. These pillars are Education and Youth Opportunities, Equitable Development, Arts and Business Opportunities, Healthy and Safe Neighborhoods, Housing Opportunities for All, Environment Infrastructure and Resilience. And our city, our planning, our budgeting, our operations are all focused on those pillars. And our commitment to equity is foundational throughout our work. I want to thank our leadership and our team members for embracing these principles and pillars for progress.

And I’d like to share a few examples of the progress that we made in 2023 for each pillar.

The first pillar is Education and Youth Opportunities. The city is focused on impactful programs aimed at connecting our youth with opportunities and developing a well-prepared workforce. Towards that end, we are excited to announce recently an innovative new initiative, the Mayor’s Future Ready Academy, which is an 18-week job training program providing full-time pay and employee benefits.

Cadets also receive additional certification at Pinellas Technical College. And our hope is that many will choose to seek permanent employment with the city. Now, I really want to thank our city leadership team for developing this innovative program that connects young people with public service career opportunities and addresses the city’s workforce needs. The first 12 cadets started this month, and some are here today. Welcome to the team.

Welcome to the team. Steering our young people toward positive opportunities is a powerful investment.

So, we’re expanding and refining our ‘Not My Child’ and ‘Cohort of Champions’ programs under the Office of Community Impact. These programs are critical, focusing on educational and community support and anti-violence efforts. I’m looking forward to enhancing these and other programs under the direction of our new Chief Equity Officer, Carl Lavender.

Where are you, Carl? Okay.

And we are also excited today that we’ve made a key hire for this pillar. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Sharon Brown, our city’s new Director of Education and Youth Opportunities. Dr. Brown.

We are continuing our critical investments in this pillar. In fact, we’ve added $1.1 million in new funding for literacy and youth employment programs in this fiscal year. And imagine, or dream if you will, the picture – who knows what that is? Okay, you’ll get it on the way home. Imagine our E.N.R. Davis Center transformed into an Opportunity and Innovation Center. A modern hub for education, nutrition, digital access, wellness, and other services vital to the wellbeing of the surrounding community and impacted groups, including our seniors and youth. Well, that’s what we’re working on right now, with a feasibility study and project planning that’s required for this kind of transformation. In addition to the investment from the city, we’ve requested over a million dollars from the federal government. The Hines Rays group is including a $2 million commitment through its community benefits proposal.

And we’ve included $4.75 million in our five-year CIP. This fall, we are planning to hold a community conversation to hear more from the community about what services they want to see at this new center.

Our Parks and Recreation Department plays an important role in supporting our youth as well, providing comprehensive afterschool programs for both elementary and middle school students, including our TASCO afterschool technology programs, offering courses in digital videography, photography, graphic arts, and much more. We also understand that nutrition is a critical issue for many families, and the city’s provided 175,000 meals in our Summer Food Program, with additional meals and snacks provided through our Parks and Recreation Department.

The next pillar is Equitable Development, Arts, and Business Opportunities.

St. Petersburg is dedicated to driving inclusive economic development that enhances the quality of life for all residents and avoids community displacement. Key initiatives in 2023 included the South St. Pete CRA Microfund Program, offering capacity building, education, mentoring, and networking, along with funding for business improvements. In 2023, $440,000 was allocated with 53 business owners completing the first cohort of the program. We received more than 130 applications to be considered for the second, third, and fourth cohorts.

And we’re excited that the second cohort launches tonight. With the approval of the City Council, we’ve adopted a Minority and Women Business Enterprise Program. This program addresses the documented underutilization of minority and women-owned businesses by removing barriers and actively working to expand business opportunities for these businesses.

After opening the portal for applications on January 1st of this year, we have 25 applications under review and four certified MWBEs. I’m proud of the work of our Office of Supplier Diversity, and we look forward to the success of this office in building access to the city’s economic engine for traditionally underutilized businesses. As we stand in the Palladium, we know that St. Pete is a city of the arts. And we are focused on supporting our arts ecosystem. Last year, our Arts and Culture Grant Program provided operating funds to 30 organizations. And in collaboration with the city’s Poet Laureate, Gloria Muñoz, our City of Writers Poetry Festival celebrated the writing community with 30 events across St. Pete, emphasizing both emerging and established writers. Now, as you were driving in and you saw all the cranes in the air, you know that we are growing as a city. Our economic growth remains strong, with St. Pete experiencing new construction value of $1.37 billion last year, the second highest ever, and issued more than 32,000 permits. This continued strong growth indicates the city’s ongoing development and robust economy. And this month, we were proud to celebrate the opening of the ARCH Innovation Center in St. Pete’s burgeoning Innovation District. Developed in partnership with the Federal Economic Development Administration, Pinellas County, ARCH Invest, and the Tampa Bay Innovation Center. This center will be an economic driver, generating an estimated $28 million in economic impact and creating more than 1,200 direct and indirect jobs by 2026. The ARCH Innovation Center stands as a symbol of St. Petersburg’s commitment to public-private partnership, nurturing talent, and fostering innovation.

A pillar that hits close to home for all of us is Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods. And St. Pete is committed to creating safer and healthier neighborhoods throughout our city. From healthy food access to healthcare, supportive services, recreation, and crime reduction. Our goal is to support and maintain neighborhoods where all of our families are safe, healthy, and thriving. Some of the highlights of this pillar include the Community Support Hubs Initiative, led by The Well and supported by American Rescue Plan Act funds.

ARPA, you’ll hear that quite a bit. These hubs will provide trauma-informed therapy, case management, and outreach tailored to the community’s needs. Over 330 community members contributed input for the hubs’ rollout, with a goal of a network established across St. Pete. Now, our first hub is up and running already, and a grand opening is scheduled for March 1st.

We know that access to fresh food is limited in many of our neighborhoods. The Fresh Pace Healthy Neighborhood Store Program, in partnership with the St. Pete Free Clinic, and funded again by ARPA, expands access to healthy food in lower-income neighborhoods. And we have one store open and five more planned.

Now, although we are the Sunshine City, we know well that we are vulnerable to storms and hurricanes. Last August, Hurricane Adalia, although it was a hundred miles west of us, highlighted our vulnerability. Our city team worked intently to protect lives, faced historic storm surge, activating our emergency operations, pre-clearing storm drains, securing infrastructure, and evacuating vulnerable residents, distributing sandbags, and opening shelters. During this storm, St. Pete Fire Rescue conducted rescues for pets and for residents. And after the storm, our teams assessed damage and provided recovery support, including seeking and obtaining FEMA support. Let us all give a special thanks to all of our city teams for helping our city prepare for and recover from the storm.

I also want to thank our council members, particularly Council Member Gabbard and Montanari, for your on-the-ground support of your neighborhoods impacted by the flood. And we look forward to working with you to address the issues we’re all facing from extreme weather and sea level rise. In 2023, the St. Petersburg Police Department continued its impactful and accountable approach to public safety. The Community Assistance and Life Liaison Program, or CALL, continued to exemplify this smart and innovative approach to public safety. The program has successfully reached 10,000 contacts, illustrating its effective and community-centric approach to policing by directing certain non-violent calls to social workers. The City Council’s approval of a three-year agreement extension and increased funding for the program have extended operating hours and increased the program’s impact.

Now, we will continue to invest in the personnel and infrastructure to keep our growing city safe. And thanks to the work of our administration and our partnership with Pinellas County Schools, we are purchasing land from the School Board for a new Fire Station Number 2, which will serve the greater West St. Petersburg area.

Now, we live in a wonderful city. However, our city is not immune to the increase in housing costs that is facing cities across our nation. Therefore, it’s imperative that we continue our focus on producing and preserving housing for those who make average salaries and less. These are the folks that work in our hospitals, in our colleges and universities, for our city, and in our hotels and restaurants.

In other words, the people who make our city work. This year, we’ve begun the development of 282 multifamily affordable housing units, with 834 more units funded or approved. We preserved or completed 155 units, including the 16 Square Townhomes, Jordan Park Residences, and Citrus Grove Apartments. Our initiatives also include 154 non-subsidized workforce density bonus units. Through our Affordable Lot Disposition Program, we’ve sold 10 city-owned, single-family lots to qualified families, paving the way for new affordable homes. We’ve also created 13 affordable single-family homes for those earning less than 120% of area median income through various programs. 

We’ve assisted 58 first-time home buyers and provided vital homebuyer education to 222 households. Our efforts extend to keeping folks in the homes they are already in. In home rehab, we’ve assisted 49 homeowners with substantial rehabilitation, and expanded the rebates for affordable and residential rehabs, programmed citywide. A total of $1.8 million in funding was expended to support these initiatives. Now, here’s an interesting one in terms of zoning and planning: we’ve rezoned 2,895 properties to allow for increased housing units on single-family lots, resulting in the completion of 43 accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. Now, in comparison, in the past decade, only 36 ADUs were completed. So, we are making a difference there. We’re also dedicated to protecting and supporting tenants. 

We’ve allocated 5.9 million in funding for renter assistance and affordable rental housing construction. Our community support specialist has successfully engaged with 42% of residential eviction cases, and we’ve forgiven or reduced a substantial amount in liens through various programs. This year, we will make substantial progress towards expanding homeownership through the recently completed Mosty Townhome project and the forthcoming Deuces Rising, Shell Dash, and Pelican Place Townhome projects, the latter in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco. Now, our South St. Pete CRA has grown to be an invaluable tool to support affordable housing, particularly in this time of rising construction and financing costs. 

This year, the CRA will generate $12 million that will be applied to affordable and workforce housing. So, in conclusion, our commitment to housing affordability is unwavering, and we continue to be focused on creating strong neighborhoods, fostering equity, and building a community where every resident can thrive. And the final pillar is Environment, Infrastructure, and Resilience. Our development of policies and dedication of funding for environmental protection and infrastructure continued last year. Facing the challenges of sea level rise and extreme weather, we have prioritized protecting our environment, modernizing infrastructure, and increasing the resiliency of our community. Hurricane Adalia and the no-name December storm highlighted our increasing challenge with sea level rise and the increased flooding impacts on neighborhoods across our city, including Shore Acres, Riviera Bay, Coquina Key, the neighborhoods around Lake Maggiore, and other parts of the city. So, in response, we will continue to seek ways to enhance our investments in our stormwater infrastructure and continue our discussions with FEMA, with the state, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, and other agencies for legislation, funding, and property owner assistance. We will continue our collaboration with the council and our impacted neighborhoods. And there you are. And I fully support Council Member [Request]’s requests for seed funding for an action plan for flood mitigation and adaptation, in partnership with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. As you mentioned at the council budget session, and yes, I do watch all the council meetings, but I’m totally on board with that. That will be in our recommended budget. 

Look, as we’ve known for some time, and I see Commissioner Janet Long here who led this effort maybe a decade ago, of what the impact of sea level rise would be for us. We’ve known for some time that the development of adaptation measures, including structural elevation and facilities, and the other things that we must do, is a substantial cost. But as Council Member Gabbert said, we’ve planned enough. It is time now to take deliberate action. I heard somebody clapping. Look, we cannot simply raise the road without elevating the nearby properties. Our approach has to be holistic, based on science and facts, and holistic for the entire community. We are committed, though, to addressing this issue as the critical issue that it has evolved to become today. Now, we have been making progress in hardening our infrastructure. We celebrated the completion of the new, safer, more accessible 40th Avenue Northeast bridge. We’ve increased our efforts to secure grant funding, securing a $20 million grant award from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Resilient Florida program. Now, this funding allows us to enhance water infrastructure and address stormwater flooding around Lake Maggiore. 

And speaking of Lake Maggiore, it is looking much better these days. You can actually see it. I knew you would applaud that, Madam Chairperson Sanders. So, I want to thank Claude and his team for their work to remove cattails along MLK Street. And I heard the St. Pete Youth Farm mentioned earlier. It is a wonderful program. It is. It’s one of those programs that touches several pillars, including youth education and wellness and resiliency. In addition to urban agriculture, the Youth Farm focuses on sustainable farming methods and serves as a learning space for students to understand both food production and to build business skills. The Youth Farm is a special place and is a blueprint for addressing food inequality while engaging our youth in an impactful program. In summary, our St. Pete team is focused on resiliency, embracing innovation, environmental protection, and community engagement. 

The long challenges in this area are now becoming evident for our community. But together, we are working to make St. Pete a resilient, vibrant, and sustainable place for all. Now, looking ahead to 2024, we’ll continue our pursuit of progress. And I would like to take, although they wanted me to try to keep this under 35 minutes, but I think it’s worth it, just to recognize the folks that I work with every day, and that’s our cabinet. They are listed on your program. But I want to thank our cabinet for driving world-class service to our community in every administration. And I’d ask you to stand if you’re here. Rob Gurtis, our City Administrator. Tom Green, our Assistant City Administrator. James Corbett, our City Development Administrator. Amy Foster, our Housing and Neighborhood Services Administrator. The Chief of the best police department in America, Anthony Holloway. Our new Interim Chief Equity Officer, Carl Lavender. Now, he couldn’t be with us today, but I have to say, it starts in parks. Our Community Enrichment Administrator, Mike Jefferies. Let’s show him some love. Jackie Cavalero, our City Attorney. Is Jackie here? So, Jackie’s an Eagles fan, so she’s probably still in mourning. Uh, 50-year employee of the St. Pete Fire Rescue Department, our Chief, Jim Large. Our Communications and Community Engagement Managing Director, Elisa Ponzo and Randall. Public Works Administrator, Claude Tankersley. And our Chief of Staff, Doyle Walsh. Now, two ladies who we can’t do anything without, and they’re probably going around keeping things straight now. See, she’s right there. Rita Wesley, my special assistant. Come on out, Rita. And Kelly Danbeck, special assistant to our Chief of Staff. Where’s Kelly? To other people before I get back to my closing comments, our Clerk of the Court who runs everything from council meetings to elections, Shan Srinivasa. And our City Council Administrative Officer, Cindy Shepherd. Is Cindy here? Thank you for everything you do, Cindy. Now, look, we have several long-standing projects that will achieve major milestones this year. 

The largest, of course, is the redevelopment of the historic Gas Plant District. Now, last year at my State of the City address, I announced the selection of the Hines Rays Group as the development team to develop the district. And I got to let you know, our team has been working very hard and very effectively since then. Now, our team has met every project milestone, and today we’re working diligently with the City Council, with our partners, with the Hines Rays Group in Pinellas County, to finalize agreements that will bring this 40-year saga of the historic Gas Plant and the future of the Rays to a positive conclusion. So, I’d like to just convey a few thoughts.

I want to thank you for your due diligence, your feedback, and your recommendations on the agreements that will define this partnership. This vetting is what is required and expected under our charter. I have sat in the same seat and done the same in reviewing agreements for the Blue Jays and the Philly stadiums as a county commissioner. So, I know why you ask the questions, and the people of our city benefit greatly from your fiduciary oversight. I want you to know my administration and our partners are listening and working every day, and every night, James.

And are you going to say that, to bring you a set of agreements that are responsive and will meet your approval and move us forward. So thank you for your leadership and your partnership. To RF, who I’ve named many already, but I’d like to thank our staff for your work.

For the countless hours of work through this last year, you’ve met an aggressive timeline for the issuance of the RFP, the selection process, the term sheet development. And you’ve been responsive and innovative too, to the Council’s feedback and the community’s feedback and inquiries. I also want to thank our county partners, Administrator Barry Burton, past Chair Janet Long, and current Chair Kathleen Peters, and all of the commissioners and TDC members for your partnership during this process.

To our community, this has been a long journey. And having witnessed it from the start, I was 19 when it started.

I’m confident in the agreement that we are shaping. With $6.5 billion in investment, 37,000 projected jobs, significant and much-needed office and conference space, 1,200 units of affordable and workforce housing, a $500 million commitment to minority participation, and $50 million in additional community benefit and more, the return to the city and the county for this investment will be substantial. The city’s costs are capped and utilize the same revenue streams that we’ve traditionally used for Tropicana Field. And we’ll use revenues generated by new development where 86 acres of asphalt sits now. The cost is also shared, with the Rays paying more than half of the stadium costs and Pinellas County paying slightly more than the city. And that cost, whether viewed in present-day or 30-year horizons, will be exceeded by the benefits, including more than 30 years of property taxes, sales taxes, wages, bed taxes, and the fulfillment of promises of economic inclusion for the black community and businesses that were displaced in ’78 with a promise.

And the fulfillment of those promises has immeasurable value. This agreement will be a fulfillment of those promises and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand economic opportunity for all. I’ve lived this saga, and we’ve literally waited decades to be in this position, and we’ve never been this close.

I believe we have never had, nor will we have in the future, stronger partners than Heinz, Rays, and the county. Nor will we have a better opportunity than this, to turn the page and move to a new chapter at the historic Gas Plant. So, we will keep working to bring this deal home. Now, we have other long-standing projects that we will move forward this year. We will bring the Municipal Marina to Council for approval. We will cut the ribbon on a new sanitation complex.

And we will press for the resolution of other long-standing projects, like the Science Center, Sankofa, the Manhattan Casino, and Tangerine Plaza. We’ll also celebrate progress on new and continuing initiatives, including Pelican Place Townhomes with Habitat for Humanity, the moving forward on the stormwater master plan implementation, new literacy, and education initiatives, and other initiatives related to each of our pillars for progress. I’d like to close by talking about a few of the folks that actually make all this happen.

Our hardworking City Council members, our talented administrative leadership, and our dedicated city employees are invaluable parts of our city team. And as Mayor, I value your commitment, your dedication, your passion for our city. And I’d like to tell you about a few members of our team. The five employees who are recognized today boast a combined 134 years of service.

Now, our first employee is Stephanie Lamp.

Where are you, Stephanie? Alright, let’s show Stephanie some love.

Stephanie is a Senior Housing Development Coordinator who has been with the city since 1984. A graduate of the University of Illinois, she began her career working with the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, the Planning Commission, and the Community Redevelopment Agency. Currently, she’s responsible for the management of the city’s annual HOME program allocation, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, and the Workforce Housing Density Bonus Program. Stephanie is also the staff lead for the State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program and the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee. Now, during her tenure, the city has helped to facilitate the production of more than 2,000 new or renovated affordable multifamily units for very low and low-income households and has leveraged over $348 million in private lender loans and investor equity. We are grateful to Stephanie for her continued work to implement our Housing Opportunities for All plan. Now, I’m hearing that retirement might be in the cards this year, Stephanie. So, we wish Stephanie all the best and appreciate her for every minute she’s dedicated to making our city better. Thank you, Stephanie.

The next employee is Kevin Jackson. Mr. Jackson.

Now, Kevin has achieved several firsts with the city’s Stormwater, Pavement, and Traffic Operations Department. He was the first African-American to receive Traffic Signal Technician Level 3 certification through the International Municipal Signal Association, the first to hold the title of Traffic Signals Coordinator, and the title of Traffic Operations Manager. He officially supported his fellow employees as a member of the union and served as the West Region’s representative of SEIU FPSU for eight years. Kevin also uses his time to speak with local students about careers in traffic operations and working for the city. And last year, Kevin graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Management from St. Petersburg College and was recently accepted into USF’s Master of Public Administration program.

Thank you, Kevin, for your great work.

Now, originally from Brockton, Massachusetts, Officer Ken, let’s see, Officer.

In 2016, Officer Ken began his career in law enforcement with the St. Pete Police Department. He’s completed various training and certifications in traffic enforcement and DUI investigations and is currently assigned to the DUI unit within the Traffic Division. Now, a recent incident that you may have heard about put Officer Ken in the spotlight and reminded us of the risks.

Our officers face every day.

Just a few weeks ago, at one o’clock in the morning, not far from here, Officer Ken pulled over a car on I-375 for a traffic stop. He was standing in the open door of his patrol car when a Kia Optima drove by too closely, smashed into the open door, and injured his hand.

Now, this is the boss part. Despite the injury from the Kia that drove away, he calmly approached the car he originally stopped and gave the driver a warning. That is so boss.

Now look, we are grateful that the only surgery that was required was to his hand because this could have been fatal. It could have been so much worse. Fortunately, officers found the Kia driver later that morning and arrested her. So, I want to thank you, Officer Ken, for your service and commitment to protecting our citizens.

And we are praying for your speedy recovery.

The next employee is Firefighter Jake Solomon.

Now, after 35 years, Firefighter Jake Solomon retired this month from St. Pete Fire Rescue as an engine and truck operator. An outstanding firefighter and mentor, he served on our Marine Team at Station 11. A graduate of Plant High School in Tampa, Jake immediately enlisted in the Army as a parachute jumper. He worked at St. Pete Fire Rescue for 35 years with many official and unofficial titles: engine truck driver, engineer, Technical Rescue Team, and boat operator specialties, and as a mentor for new employees. Now, Jake is a humble team player who does not hesitate to step up and help. But if you ask his coworkers, they would say he’s a life coach. Jake Solomon retired this month, and he will truly be missed at St. Pete Fire Rescue, but everyone who knows him says they can’t wait to see what he does next. Thank you for your service, Jake.

And last but not least, Chief James Large, who retired from the city after 50 years, Chief.

Now, Chief Large has served 18 of those years as Fire Chief. Jim’s long list of accomplishments includes obtaining and maintaining accreditation and ISO Class One designation for the department, implementing a Fire Cadet program to help create and diversify the next generation of firefighters, instituting three COVID-19 Strike Team units, and establishing a comprehensive behavioral health program focused on mental health and wellbeing to help reduce the risk of post-traumatic stress and suicide within the fire service. In 2022, Chief Large was named Florida Fire Chief of the Year by the Florida Fire Chiefs Association. Under his leadership, St. Pete Fire Rescue has become known for its dedicated team of firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, and support personnel who deliver exceptional service and high-quality care to the St. Pete community. Thank you, Chief Large, for your lifetime of service and commitment to public safety, and we wish you and your family all the best in your future endeavors, Chief Large.

So as I wrap up my remarks, I’d like to do that with a word on partnerships. We will continue our focus on building relationships, from our ongoing partnership with the county on economic development and public safety, to our collaboration with our state and federal partners on resiliency and infrastructure investments. Our outreach through our ‘Word with Welch’, our community conversations, and ‘City Hall on Tour’ will continue, giving our community several opportunities for engagement with our local government. And we will continue to listen. The follow-up work on our 2023 Employee Climate Survey will continue as our departmental equity action plans are implemented. And for the first time, we are surveying our citizens through the City of St. Petersburg 2024 Community Survey, to get direct feedback on our services. Our work with the St. Petersburg Chamber and their Leadership Alliance and the EDC and Downtown Partnership will further strengthen and align our economic development partnerships and goals. And for the first time in our city’s history, working with City Council, we’ve developed a historic joint federal legislative agenda for 2024. I want to thank immediate past Council Chair Brandy Gabbard and Council Member Lissette Hanewicz, who chairs the Legislative Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations Committee, and all the City Council for their partnership on this effort. And to our partners at the federal level, we are committed to a unified voice as we advocate on behalf of our city for the resources and the policies necessary to move our community forward. 

This is a special time in our city’s history, a time of tremendous potential and a time of challenges that require our focus and commitment to inclusive progress. We are St. Pete, and the state of our city is strong. God bless you.

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