Innovation District officials look to the future

Innovation District officials look to the future

St. Petersburg Innovation District officials are formulating a vision to further connect and enhance over 50 organizations comprising the public-private partnership.

An evaluation committee chose Kimley-Horn, a civil engineering, planning and design firm with an extensive local resume, to create the Innovation District’s first master plan since it launched in 2016. They chose the Raleigh, North Carolina-based company at Tuesday’s selection meeting, over DHP Consulting and Stantec.

Alison Barlow, executive director of the Innovation District, joined four city officials on the committee. They said they appreciated Kimley-Horn’s thorough presentation and thoughtful approach to community engagement.

After the meeting, Barlow said the Innovation District’s strength is its “amazing” anchor institutions, like Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Bayfront Health St. Petersburg and the Port of St. Petersburg. She said the master plan would strategically align mutual goals.

“I hope there’s a really dynamic vision that everybody gets excited about, that they see their thoughts and ideas have been incorporated,” Barlow said. “And that it reflects the future of St. Pete, without losing what makes St. Pete so special.”

City leaders formed the Innovation District to foster collaboration through proximity. Over 50 organizations comprising marine science, technology, healthcare, entrepreneurship and education call the roughly one-square-mile area home.

A graphic showing the Innovation District’s various organizations. Screengrab.

Barlow also oversees the Maritime and Defense Technology Hub, which has achieved its foremost goal of bringing the “triple helix” of the innovation industry, government and academia together under one roof through its first year in operation. Nearly two dozen tenants collaborate daily, and Barlow announced plans for a sister facility in March.

While based in Raleigh, Kimley-Horn has a local office and worked with city officials on the St. Petersburg Pier approach and Downtown Waterfront Master Plan. The firm is also part of a public-private partnership exploring new Cross Bay Ferry routes and terminals.

Barlow said she wants the Innovation District’s master plan to envision what the area, and its organizations, could look like decades into the future.

“What are those things that we can imagine but we haven’t really put in place yet?” she added. “What are the trends that we should be looking at? And lastly, in order to do all this, we … need to also update some of our zoning.”

The area continues to evolve. In addition to Barlow’s plans for the Hub 2 adjacent to the original at Port St. Petersburg, USF recently received $24 million for a long-awaited interdisciplinary science research and teaching facility.

She has noted that the Hub is the only facility on a commercial port in Tampa Bay with waterfront bays that can safely accommodate research and development vessels. The Florida Institute of Oceanography and USF will unveil the R/V Western Flyer Wednesday from its new home in Bayboro Harbor.

The ARK Innovation Center will open in October. Barlow has also floated the idea of creating workforce housing.

“And so, one of our first goals is to look comprehensively at the District to incorporate the work they’ve (other organizations) done, but also look for missed opportunities for shared activities,” Barlow explained.

Alison Barlow, executive director of the Innovation District.

During the evaluation meeting, Barlow told her fellow committee members she regretted not asking Kimley-Horn representatives how the plan might intersect with the nearby Albert Whitted Airport and Dali Museum. However, she appreciated them offering “a lot of information in a short amount of time.”

Gary Jones, senior planner for the city, also credited the firm for addressing most of his issues through the 20-minute presentation. That portion is closed to the public, and Barlow could not provide specific details after the meeting.

“I really appreciated all of the respondents,” she said. “And how much they clearly took the time to understand the Innovation District to reflect some of the interesting opportunities – or quirks – about it, and then relate it to their experience. All of them did a great job at that.”

Barlow said the planning process would begin in the fall and should take about a year to complete. The priority now is hosting meetings and workshops to gather stakeholder feedback.

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