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Community can help shape benefits Moffitt will provide St. Pete in downtown development

Moffitt Cancer Center wants to transform a parking lot in downtown St. Pete into a treatment center, apartments, and more
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Posted at 8:37 AM, May 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-13 08:57:49-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It can be a long drive from St. Petersburg to the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, especially if traffic is bad. Just ask Stephanie Owens.

“I’ve personally experienced Moffitt’s care…and you’re commuting from St. Pete to North Tampa for those services,” she said. “It is definitely a regimen that requires, oftentimes, more than once a week depending on…how you’re being treated.”

But Owens, who’s the Deputy Mayor of St. Pete, is part of the effort to change that and bring a Moffitt Cancer Center facility to St. Pete’s downtown.

A plan, supported by Moffitt, would transform what’s now a city-owned parking lot at 800 1st Ave. S. into a sweeping development that includes a 350-unit residential tower, a future office building for UPC Insurance, a parking garage that will have space for the public, a possible hotel, and a 75,000 square foot cancer treatment center that will — according to the proposal — provide “the citizens of St. Petersburg access to Moffitt’s world-class multidisciplinary cancer care, clinical research and the latest treatment options.”

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The same proposal said the expansion is “critical” to reducing the 45,000 cancer deaths Florida records annually.

“The Moffitt Cancer Center is not operating in Pinellas County, so it will have a tremendous impact on people who have the opportunity to get their care from Moffitt,” said Owens. “From a development standpoint, it’s absolutely a game-changer. From a health and wellness standpoint, it’s a game-changer.”

Before the project can proceed, however, developers must comply with a new St. Pete policy that the City Council passed in July 2021 to encourage “community-based economic development.”

Under the new policy, developments that require public funding in excess of 20% of construction costs, or $10 million regardless of overall construction costs, must specify the perks, or “community benefits,” they will provide the public.

“We are the first community in Florida to do this,” Owens said. “It’s the community’s chance, it’s the city’s chance, it’s the developer’s chance to really make sure that what they’re creating and putting in our community is something that resonates with each and every person in the community.”

The Moffitt project will be the first one considered under the new policy.

Friday, community members are invited to meet with Moffitt and its developer, TPA Group, to help shape a “Community Benefits Agreement.” The meeting is set for 5 p.m. at The Sunshine Center at 330 5th St. N., and according to Owens, the sale of the city-owned property will ultimately depend on the city council’s approval of those terms.

“This process adds a very small layer on top of our already robust development process,” Owens said.

In the Moffitt project — which promises hundreds of jobs, a large economic impact, some affordable/workforce housing in the residential tower, and access to world-class cancer treatment — Owens said the public benefits seem clear-cut.

But St. Pete leaders think the policy should help the city develop more equitably and prevent future cases of gentrification and inequality as the city grows rapidly.

“When the city provides things to a developer, it is only right and just that community members who are most affected by that developer’s project have a say and a part in the discussion about possible benefits and changes that will come into their own living space,” a community member, Ruth Whitney, told council members ahead of their July 2021 vote to approve the benefits policy.

At the same meeting, St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch — who was not yet mayor at the time — called the policy a “step toward opportunity for all.”