Differences between Mayor Bill Foster and challenger Rick Kriseman’s views on economic development, and in particular small businesses, were on display Tuesday at a debate at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Foster said the city has become more business friendly during his first three-plus years in office while also leading St. Pete through the great recession and mortgage crisis.
He said he is the candidate with a track record of helping to secure funding for USF St. Pete, helping bring Johns Hopkins to St. Pete and re-establishing the city’s relationship with the St. Petersburg Chamber.
“Now is not a good time for on-the-job training,” Foster said of Kriseman.
Kriseman said St. Petersburg largely ignores small businesses outside the downtown core and is still responsible for too many obstacles small business owners face.
During his visits to businesses in west St. Pete Kriseman said, “when I ask them, has anyone form the city visited their business, the answer is no.”
Unless it is the codes department telling them they are doing something wrong, he said.
“St. Pete is a city of small business, and not that we want to turn away Fortune 500 companies, but what give us our unique character and flavor is our small businesses,” Kriseman said.
Cutting taxes, Foster said, is something he has done to help grow the local economy.
“First two years of my administration we were able to lower taxes, create these environments conducive to economic development,” Foster said.
In 2012 Foster proposed, and council approved, a millage rate increase for 2013 that was generally supported by the public.
Next year’s proposed budget, which has not been approved yet, there is a proposed millage rate reduction by Foster but that rate would still be higher than the roll back due to property values increasing again.
Tuesday’s debate also ramped up the jabs and attacks between Foster and Kriseman.
Kriseman hit Foster for his handling of the Rays and Tropicana Field situation saying Foster has failed because he has lost the trust of the entire Rays organization.
“The Rays have lost faith in Mr. Foster and that’s part of the reason we haven’t made any progress,” Kriseman said.
“Foster’s position seemed to change when he was in the editorial board room,” Kriseman said of Foster’s decision to allow the Rays to look in Tampa for a new stadium after years of demanding the team stay in St. Pete.
On trying to keep the team in the region, Foster said, “when objectives and circumstances change you have to adapt.”
Foster hammered Kriseman for his time in Tallahassee for doing “really nothing” during his tenure as a state representative.
When speaking about lobbying for education funding Foster said Kriseman, “talks about having to go to Tallahassee and lobby, he spent six years in Tallahassee and didn’t accomplish a thing.”
Kriseman countered by saying Foster has been largely absent from advocating for the city at the state level.
“Would have been nice during my six years had Mr. Foster been up there every session to advocate not only for public education, but for all of those issues,” important to St. Pete.
Kriseman went after Foster closing the St. Petersburg Pier. He said in an ideal world the city would complete the now in-progress downtown waterfront master plan then design a new pier.
“But we don’t live in an ideal world, because the administration shut the pier down,” Kriseman said. “ … even though there was a question,” about the probability of the “Lens” design being built.
LocalShops1 and USF St. Pete sponsored Tuesday’s debate.