Revitalizing Downtown St. Petersburg – Lessons Learned


Downtown St. Petersburg

The Seamless City by Rick Baker, former Mayor of St. Petersburg is a primer on how to revitalize a city, and was based on Baker’s experience as Mayor from 2001-2010.  The book details his plan of action, which included enhancing public safety, increasing jobs, improving government operations, addressing homelessness, promoting the city and measuring progress. In fact, it could be the playbook for almost any large urban area.

His overarching approach to revitalizing Downtown St. Petersburg was based on the premise that “there would be so much going on Downtown that people will come, even if… they have nothing particular in mind what they want to do, confident that they can simply come Downtown and pick from a variety of activities once they get there.“

This plan included the following action steps:

  • Expand the number of reoccurring events along the waterfront park – with an emphasis on events that fill hotels.
  • Develop and expand fixed activity generators like medical complexes, marine research, education, business, hotels, shopping and restaurants.
  • Support and expand cultural amenities Downtown to become the cultural center of Florida.
  • Make Beach Drive, along their waterfront park, a café and retail activity generator and link this district to other districts.
  • Improve access to and around Downtown.
  • Focus on making Downtown a more desirable place to live and work.

Baker also referenced their failures along the way, which included attempts to recruit Full Sail University, the Savannah College of Art and Design and major retail Downtown.

While each city is different, there are a few takeaways that Jacksonville can learn from.

First, the Mayor and his administration to proactively pursued who and what they wanted Downtown. From recruiting businesses and schools to international art shows, the Mayor and the business community went after strategic sources to try and leverage their pull for Downtown.

Second, while most cities talk about making their Downtowns a great place to live and work, St. Pete’s leadership knew this meant a careful attention to detail in making the Downtown more attractive. Wider sidewalks, café tables and umbrellas and flowers were implemented to create great public open spaces, which made people feel safe and comfortable while Downtown.

Third, it takes a plan of three-to-five major initiatives, which are focused, executable in the short term and easily measurable.

Mayor Baker will be in Jacksonville for the ULI North Florida Member-Only Breakfast Meeting on December 11th. The meeting is limited to the first 50 members to register.