It added 69,823 more folks, or 8 percent. But its African-American, Asian and Hispanic populations soared during the 1990s.
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2001
As Florida's population boomed during the 1990s, Pinellas County wasn't exactly bust. But regional bragging rights rest elsewhere.
Pinellas, long one of Florida's most densely developed and populated counties, managed to squeeze in 69,823 more residents during the 1990s, even with a growth rate among the state's slowest.
Pinellas' population, the fifth-highest among Florida's 67 counties, grew by slightly more than 8 percent from 1990 to 2000 to a total of 921,482, according to new census figures released Tuesday.
But in booming Florida, that's a veritable snail's pace. Hillsborough claims the title as Tampa Bay's most populous county with 998,948 souls. It grew a brisk 19.8 percent in the 1990s.
In Florida, only Monroe County's population, which grew 2 percent during the decade, increased at a slower pace than Pinellas'.
Still, the numbers are heartening to Pinellas officials who expected less growth and now hope the increased numbers will bring increased federal funding to the county, an estimated $5,000 per year, per head.
"That's very, very good news," said Pinellas County Commissioner Calvin Harris. "I felt that the census always underestimated our population. Why shouldn't the numbers go up? We've got one of the most attractive communities in the state."
Harris noted county estimates had put the number at roughly 892,000.
St. Petersburg officials were likewise surprised to see the city population increase by 9,603 people to 248,232, which is up 4 percent from 1990.
"Wow, it's up that much?" said St. Petersburg Planning Director David Goodwin, who expected a figure closer to 242,000. "I think we're seeing a lot of turnover in the community. We're moving from more of an older, gray community to younger residents.
"We see that in our parks and recreation usage, which has been way up. More people are using the soccer fields, the baseball fields," he said.
Likewise, Clearwater's population jumped by 10,003 residents, a 10 percent increase, to 108,787 residents.
A population breakdown for other Pinellas communities was not available on Tuesday. But the greatest growth, as was the case in 1990, appeared to be centered in many north Pinellas communities, such as Oldsmar, East Lake and Tarpon Springs.
And Pinellas is becoming more diverse, census figures show. The county's Hispanic population more than doubled to 42,760, far outpacing the growth of the African-American population, which grew by 25 percent and stood at 82,556.
Overall, the Asian population also nearly doubled in size to 9,790.
"My sense is that the county is definitely getting more diverse and younger," Harris said. "And that's going to continue for a long time."
As the county has grown increasingly diverse, so have Pinellas County schools.
Since 1990, the number of students who speak English as a second language has more than doubled, to about 2,500. More than 1,100 of those students are Spanish-speaking, and more than 300 are from the former Yugoslavia. About 240 speak Vietnamese.
In response, Pinellas schools have expanded the number of schools that offer special services to those students, such as bilingual assistants. Next year, 36 schools will offer those services.
"If I were a mother, I think I would want my children to go to school with a little Spanish child and learn Spanish," said Christa Kirby, a specialist in the English to Speakers of Other Languages department.
In Clearwater, the city's Mexican-born city auditor, Robin Gomez, said the Hispanic population has shifted more from the tourism industry to construction. And the cultural diversity is seen in everyday city life.
Now, the city has festivals of Hispanic culture, and soccer fields are filled on the weekends.
"Clearwater has become the preferred residence of a lot of people from Mexico," said Gomez, who has been in this country since he was 6 and was born in the Mexican state of Hidalgo.
As for Hillsborough having the honor of Tampa Bay's most populous county, Gay Lancaster, Pinellas' interim county administrator, shrugged off the indignity cheerfully.
"They've got what we're running out of," she said. "Room."
- Times staff writers Kelly Ryan and Curtis Krueger contributed to this report.