An unprecedented partnership effort launched this past week to transform transportation and development in Pinellas County’s economic center, the Gateway/Mid-County Area.
The Gateway Master Plan is a collaborative effort led by Forward Pinellas, the countywide land use and transportation planning agency, along with funding partners Pinellas County, the City of St. Petersburg, the City of Largo, the City of Pinellas Park, and the Florida Department of Transportation. Over the next 18 months, the study team will explore issues such as regional transportation connections, improving local road networks to relieve state roadway congestion, accommodating all modes of transportation including bicycles and pedestrians, transit center feasibility and associated transit-oriented development, industrial redevelopment, affordable housing and resiliency.
In terms that matter to residents’ daily lives, the master plan is about creating a livable area that continues to attract ample jobs and includes multiple options get to work and other destinations safely and conveniently. The $1 million innovative partnership between these local governments, Forward Pinellas and FDOT ensures that this won’t be a plan that sits on a shelf. It also coincides with the construction of the Gateway Express toll road, Tampa Bay Next interstate modernization projects, and the Regional Transit Feasibility Plan, all of which have possible impacts on the Gateway area.
“A master plan is a holistic approach to an area-wide plan,” said Whit Blanton, Executive Director of Forward Pinellas. “It is a physical plan. We look at the big picture as well as at the street level and land parcels. But it’s also a policy plan that focuses on what we need to invest, whose responsibility that investment is, and how we can implement the recommendations of the plan.”
The Gateway/Mid-County area – defined generally for the purposes of this study as the area bounded by Belleair Road to the north, Starkey Road to the west, Gandy Boulevard/62nd Avenue North to the South, and Tampa Bay to the east – is home to many of the county’s businesses, including the Carillon Business Park, Bay Vista and Icot Center, as well as possible sites for industrial redevelopment.
According to Pinellas County Economic Development’s comprehensive workforce assessment, only 8 percent of employees who work in the general Gateway area live within a 10-minute drive, making it an essential area for transportation improvements and connections for future regional transit.
“The Gateway/Mid-County area of Pinellas is a key employment center that is crucial to both our local and regional economic development efforts,” shared Mike Meidel, Director of Pinellas County Economic Development. “Partnership and collaboration will allow the Steering Committee to balance land use and transportation needs to develop a working plan to spur sustainable development, investment and job creation in Pinellas.”
Economic development is an important consideration at the local level for cities, as well.
“For the City of Largo, we committed to participate in the Gateway Master Plan partnership because it will identify opportunities to revitalize areas that may be falling below their potential,” said Carol Stricklin, Largo’s Community Development Director. “This process will help us plan for incentivizing redevelopment in the future to foster economic development.”
“This plan is so important to the City of St. Petersburg’s economic future,” said Alan DeLisle, St. Petersburg’s City Development Administrator. “The Gateway District contains 60,000 jobs and is the major connecting hub to our regional stakeholders. It is where commerce, residential, retail, tourism and transportation all come together. This plan is necessary to make sure that we keep growing jobs in St. Petersburg, enhancing mobility and improving our quality of life.”
The benefits of having a comprehensive master plan were clear to the government partners that signed on to the effort, as well as the Florida Department of Transportation, which matched the local government contributions to the study.
“Partnerships like this one are important to the Department because first, they show a commitment from local governments to the big picture of land use and economic development as a complement to what FDOT can do for transportation,” said Ed McKinney, Planning and Environmental Administrator for FDOT District 7. “This partnership will help us create transportation connections for the entire system, with local and state roads.”
Second, McKinney said, the Gateway Master Plan will coordinate with the department’s efforts and improvements in the area, including the simultaneously occurring development of a concept for a regional intermodal center. That study is looking at the Gateway area to identify a hub location where all types of transportation modes and technology can converge.
“The Gateway Master Plan will build on the identified intermodal center to make regional transit possible,” he said.
The project launch included a two-day workshop with study partners and stakeholders to give opportunities for input on desired plan outcomes and discuss possible issues and opportunities. Some issues raised by stakeholders to address in the plan included sea level rise, transportation and connectivity, and affordable housing, among many others.
Over the next 18 months, multiple opportunities will be provided for public comment so that residents, workers, and other stakeholders can give their input on the plan. The master plan effort is being conducted by a consultant study team from WRT along with a multidisciplinary team that includes SB Friedman Development Advisors, Kimley-Horn, George F. Young, Vrana Consulting, and CGA.
“The WRT team will work with the community and stakeholders to develop a shared vision for a more environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable future where multi-modal transit is well integrated with land uses in order to support residents’ quality of life and attract investment,” said Garlen Capita, project manager and WRT Senior Associate. “The scope of this planning effort aligns well with WRT’s sustainable planning expertise and our team members’ skill and passion for developing vibrant, livable and connected communities.”