I am delighted to provide a brief summary of the past year which has been challenging for many of us but also immensely satisfying for your St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership. Our group is productively involved with expanding our technical sector, with improving our downtown transportation network as well as collaborating with groups (i.e. business, city, university, arts, medical, school system and outside investment groups) that are integral to our becoming a more vibrant St. Petersburg.
With resources restricted in almost every sector we have focused on productive collaborations with many groups and think the results for 2009 have been particularly impressive. The new Central Avenue Shuttle is a prime example of our group collaborating effectively. Our transportation guru, Eric Carlson, was asked in Mid-August if he would initiate a greatly expanded Trolley System that ran along Central Avenue. The new system - complete with freshly painted vehicles which had yet to be procured, with newly-trained drivers, with bus stops and change boxes - had to be completed and operating by October 4th. Somehow Eric managed to collaborate with the City, with the PSTA, with the state DOT and with merchants along Central Avenue to carry this off! Amazingly, in its first three months of service, the ridership on the Central Avenue Shuttle (13,383) was 81% of that our Downtown Looper Trolley carried, a system that has been serving our city for over 13 years! Hats off to Eric for carrying off what most would have classified as impossible.
Of course two of our annual high points - ribbon cuttings for Draper Laboratory and SRI St. Petersburg – also classify as highlights for the entire state. Amazingly, in its first three months of operation Draper Laboratory created more jobs in St. Petersburg than the state required they create by the end of their first year. Further, by the end of the year Draper was shipping multichip modules out of their new St. Petersburg facility and working with Progress Energy to increase the efficiency of Progress’ coal-fired power plants at Crystal River. Increased generating efficiency at Crystal River is not only a boost for our local power company and their customers, but also for the entire energy industry in the United States. The bottom line is that having advanced technology groups like Draper and SRI adds much more than high-paying jobs. Indeed, this is about having really talented technical people actively involved in improving our society. We were also impressed that SRI became involved in improving our community. People from their facilities in Menlo Park, California worked with our k-12 school system and with USF Saint Petersburg’s College of Education in initiating a revolutionary new mathematics curriculum for 7th graders in seven Pinellas Middle Schools. Had it not been for Curt Carlson, CEO of SRI, collaborating with Julie Janssen as well as championing our cause within SRI there is no way this program would have been brought to Pinellas County. Suffice it to say your Downtown Partnership facilitated the critical initial interactions that enabled the new digital mathematics program to come to our Pinellas County Schools. Just imagine, our school system could evolve into a highly collaborative model (K-12, University and SRI) others will try and emulate.
Speaking of models, the SRI ribbon cutting was a testimonial to a host of accomplished collaborators – city, county, state, university, SRI, private sector, congressional and business. Certainly without so many groups pulling together so effectively the beautiful new research facility (37,000 Sq. Ft) in the Port of St. Petersburg would never have been built. Of course we can all be thankful the city has made it possible for SRI to expand operations in our port and when the digital mathematics initiative that is underway attracts continued funding SRI is planning expand their St. Petersburg operation. It is especially impressive that SRI St. Petersburg is also collaborating with USF’s Colleges of Marine Science and Engineering, with the United States Coast Guard and with the United States Geological Survey as well as discussing possible ways to productively interact with USF Saint Petersburg’s College of Business, with the Poynter Institute and with Eckerd College. SRI has also joined with Draper Laboratory and Progress Energy to begin work on a smart electrical grid for our region. It is one thing to have a technical powerhouse like SRI join with you; quite another to have them and another technical powerhouse, Draper Laboratory, collaborate on a project designed to improve our entire region. In my book that qualifies as a "Real Dream Team”.
Naturally a letter about major advances in our beautiful city cannot be complete without reference to an arts community that continues to be this city’s most distinctive attribute. The creative programming, dynamic leadership and rich educational offerings that characterize our arts community are truly distinctive and not simply something we can be proud of, but must also make a special effort to support. The new physical facilities that are in progress (Dali/Art Center hot shop) and those in planning will substantially advance our commerce and our profile. We see St. Petersburg emerging as an important destination for tourists who want diverse cultural offerings that complement their vacations to a tropical paradise. Your Partnership is proud to work with and highlight the arts.
Suffice it to say 2010 should be most productive and you can be assured your downtown partnership will be doing all we can to facilitate programs
that lead to new, high-paying jobs, to new investments in our community and to advances in the fabric of our society that are vital to our future.
Peter R. Betzer, CEO & President
St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership