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© St. Petersburg Times, published November 15, 2000
The article City has yet to live up to its "Challenge,' which appeared Oct. 23, gives the mistaken impression that little progress has been made in the city's Challenge area. Reporters reached this conclusion even though city staffers provided them with maps that highlighted specific projects in progress and demonstrated that property values in the Challenge area are generally increasing faster than in the balance of the city.
Initially, the Challenge program worked with the private sector and others to create job opportunities for Challenge area residents. Our original approach to economic development in the Challenge area was significantly expanded in response to community input after initial employment goals were established. The opportunity to start new businesses has become equally important. This objective is being addressed in part by three new loan programs designed to assist small businesses and the development of a Business Development Center. The BDC was developed in response to the community's request to work with existing businesses and create new entrepreneurial opportunities. The BDC opened in April 1999 and has served more than 3,000 clients. During the past year, 219 people received entrepreneurial training and nearly 70 loans were disbursed.
Physical improvements throughout the Challenge area take longer to complete, but the city has programmed millions of dollars in improvements to enhance the Challenge area. Just as it has taken 18 years to realize our downtown redevelopment goals, it will take several years to achieve many of our urban redevelopment goals in the Challenge area. For example, the city has obtained a $1-million federal grant and a $4-million federal loan to develop a 20-acre modern industrial project in the heart of the inner city. By building and renovating public facilities and targeting public/private redevelopment efforts in the Challenge area, we hope to demonstrate to private investors that the city is committed to inner-city revitalization. Our ability to attract new market-driven private investment to the area will be significantly enhanced as additional physical improvements take place.
These programs and projects are designed to lay a long-term foundation for urban revitalization. More people are employed in the Challenge area than were in 1996. Physical change is occurring because the city has made a commitment to improve the area and reorganized its priorities for capital projects in the inner city. Our pace may be more deliberate than some may prefer, but that is due in large part to our effort to seek community opinions as we proceed. More specific responses to the article follow:
The article notes that I spend much of my time in meetings with my staff and Mayor David Fischer, while also indicating that we are not seeking new business prospects. A significant portion of this meeting time is spent with prospects and/or planning to address the needs of prospects we hope to attract to St. Petersburg. As any economic development professional will attest to, confidentiality is paramount to attracting new business and development.
Ceridian Benefits Services (formerly ABR): City staffers expressed an interest in this company about two years before it chose to leave Palm Harbor. We learned that the company was on the verge of leaving Pinellas County when a local development company (Echelon Development) intervened and facilitated an opportunity for Ceridian to move to the former Florida Power headquarters. City representatives worked with Ceridian by demonstrating benefits that would accrue from locating in the City's Enterprise Zone, implementing required road improvements, providing information, expediting the permitting process and assisting in the relocation.
Washington Harris Mail Order Pharmacy: This prospect was introduced to the city through the former federal coordinator who was sent to work in St. Petersburg after the 1996 civil disturbances. The prospect of successfully attracting a minority-owned company that would employ hundreds in the Challenge area, with the apparent likelihood of securing federal procurement contracts, was worth a commitment of time and energy. In the economic development business not all prospects materialize, but this one showed promise and secured a contract to purchase a site, so conditional approvals were granted by the city. The city withdrew its support when those conditions were not met.
The city is committed to the long-term revitalization of the Challenge area. This is the first comprehensive effort to revitalize this area in the city's history. Success will require a long-term sustained effort by the entire community.
-- Rick Mussett, community and economic development administrator, city of St. Petersburg
Re: Students get lesson in politics, by Lorri Helfand, Nov. 8.
We need progressive political projects for pupils. The freshmen who took part in the magnet program called the Ninth Grade Votes Project got just that. I think kids should also be learning about the issues their parents are concerned about. Currently, they have limited understanding because their awareness is not stimulated.
Children should learn about American culture. When it comes to movies and TV, they should be taught to dwell on their social effects, which is a political issue nowadays. Questions like: If children don't imitate what they see on TV, how come TV stations have advertising departments? The same should go for radio programming.
Larger issues such as health care education, all kinds of social programs, crime, etc. ought to be issues that kids should begin to think about. The drug culture is also a societal problem, and pupils should have intensive training about its detrimental effects nationwide.
Truly, the politics of today should involve pupil projects that can aid their awareness and stimulate their interest permanently. This will result in smart and capable adult citizens and a better America of tomorrow.
-- Robert B. Fleming, St. Petersburg
This month, while driving home for the evening, I came within a foot or less of hitting a bicyclist. I actually had to stop and observe the cyclist still riding to know that I did not hit him or her. Why? Simple. The bicyclist had no light on his/her bike, was wearing dark clothing and did not bother to take a look before leaving the sidewalk and entering the road.
Legally speaking, I do not know who would have been at fault if I had not avoided the collision. However, practically speaking, it would have been the bicyclist's fault. Bicyclists, you need to do everything possible to make yourselves visible at night. If you do not know how, I am sure the local police can offer ideas. Also, check for traffic before entering the road. It could save your life.
-- Dave Giese, St. Petersburg