Innovation Hub, Smart City: How St. Pete, Florida Continues to Grow Smarter

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Rendering from New York’s HKS Architects showing what a redeveloped Tropicana Field site could look like. Photo courtesy of HKS Architects.

Numerous developments are at play in St. Pete, including the planned redevelopment of Tropicana Field (the Trop).

People and companies are on the move to St. Petersburg, Florida. Tampa Bay’s not-so-hidden gem has transformed into one of America's fastest-growing cities, one of the best cities for young professionals and one of the top places to start and grow a business. Now recognized by many as an innovation hub for sectors ranging from marine and life science to financial services and data analytics, the city’s reputation as a retirement haven has gone for good.

The citywide rebirth has not happened by accident. The city’s Grow Smarter economic development strategy, put in place in 2014, has been a major contributor to St. Pete’s revitalization.

Grow Smarter

Grow Smarter brings together over 90 organizations working in a number of areas for cross-sector collaboration with key stakeholders and members of the business community. The initiative was designed to enhance St. Petersburg’s competitive position and provide quality, diverse economic growth. Since its start, Grow Smarter has contributed to increasing St. Petersburg’s median household income by 25% and decreasing the city’s poverty rate by 14%.

And the initiative continues to pay dividends, not merely in the influx of talent, entrepreneurs and established companies – its blossoming Innovation District, the recent award from US Ignite as a Smart Gigabyte City, and the development of The Tampa Bay Innovation Center are all signs of the vibrancy of the city.

The Trop, the next piece of the puzzle

Yet the city isn’t resting on its laurels. There are numerous developments in play to ensure that St. Pete’s current trajectory is maintained, none more so than the planned redevelopment of Tropicana Field in downtown St. Pete. Tropicana Field – commonly known as The Trop – has been the home of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays since the team’s inaugural season in 1998. The Trop development comes on the heels of the completion of the highly anticipated, world-class, $93 million St. Pete Pier project and is seen as the next piece of the puzzle in St. Pete’s ongoing revitalization project.

Spanning 86 acres of publicly-owned land nestled in the middle of the city, the Trop site represents a development opportunity unlike any other in the Southeast. The city’s goal is to create a multi-use city center that reflects the diverse and rich culture of St. Pete and adheres to principals developed through community engagement, including smart cities, sustainability and a healthy community.

From a company perspective, the Trop redevelopment represents a great deal of opportunity, principally, in being part of something unique, helping to shape the future of St. Pete and its community.

The Trop site "presents endless possibilities to take this city on the rise to the next level," said J.P. DuBuque, president of the city's Economic Development Corporation. "Downtown St. Pete’s revitalization over the past decade has only made the site’s redevelopment potential even more attractive. When you have a parcel that size that is controlled by the city and is primed for development, it almost seems like the opportunities are endless. The site is an unparalleled development opportunity that will serve to address many needs in the Sunshine City."

Senior Vice President of Site Selection Group, a Texas-based company that helps companies choose locations, Chris Schwinden, who looks at hundreds of sites annually, stated, “We can say without question that this is probably one of the best sites you can imagine. It can change the dynamic of this city and this community, from a workforce perspective, from a demographic perspective, from a community development perspective … It’s an unbelievable opportunity.”

The city hopes to include mixed-use buildings with retail and residential uses as well as office buildings and other potential demand drivers like a four or five-star hotel with integrated conference center and a university-affiliated technology campus. The city also envisions a significant contiguous park component and public gathering space with Booker Creek and the Pinellas Trail being central features. As part of the redevelopment of the site, the Rays are also working to solidify their place in St. Pete for many years to come.

Jabil’s expansion and reinvestment in St. Pete

The Trop is only part of the investments being made in St. Pete today. Investment is an ongoing theme in the city. Jabil – one of the largest companies headquartered in St. Pete, a leading manufacturing company with projected revenue of more than $26 billion this year – is coming towards the completion of a $67 million expansion of its St. Pete headquarters campus contiguous, a four-phase construction, which started with an Innovation Center, completed in 2019.

Jabil's reinvestment in St. Pete comes at a time when the company is looking at making some big strategic investments to stay competitive in emerging fields like energy production, 5G wireless communications, robotics, data analytics and automotive technology, both in navigation and electric-drive propulsion.

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Jabil Innovation Center ribbon cutting.

"The new Innovation Center represents an affirmation of Jabil’s commitment to the city," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman remarked. "The expansion reinforces the part of the city’s vision statement that calls for St. Pete to be an innovative, creative and competitive community."

While Jabil has approximately 200,000 employees and 100 facilities in 29 countries, it intends to keep its head office in St. Petersburg.

"When it comes down to it, we're a St. Pete company," Jabil CEO Mark Mondello said." And I'll tell you: the offers we got to move to other locations? I'm really glad we didn't. We've entertained other conversations, but we as a management team and I are really pleased we landed on St. Pete."

This article originally appeared in the Business Journals.

St. Pete, way more than the No. 1 beach in America. For more information on the benefits of relocating to the Sunshine City, contact St. Pete EDC President and CEO J.P. DuBuque at jpdubuque@stpeteedc.com or visit stpeteedc.com.