St. Pete may showcase 'innovation district' - FOX 13 News

St. Pete may showcase 'innovation district'

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ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) -

The working label may be a bit clunky, but for discussion purposes, it works: "Innovation District." That is how St. Petersburg city officials refer to the part of downtown housing major medical facilities, a university, parts of a second university, and several federal and state marine science research centers.

"The common thread is innovation," Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin explained. "They're all innovators who move the ball forward in their specific sectors."

The idea of intertwining those entities in a new marketing effort is more than a year old, with initial discussions led by the Downtown Partnership. Tomalin is now the city's point person.

"It's one of the biggest opportunities we have in the city of St. Petersburg," she told FOX 13 News. "The real opportunity is to take what each of these institutions do individually and leverage them to create a great collaboration that has a far-reaching benefit."

That translates into more jobs, in the opinion of State Representative Ed Hooper. He helped secure $2.5 million for a pediatric research practice at All Children's and $10 million for a new College of Business building at USF St. Petersburg in this year's state budget.

"I envision downtown St. Pete, just south of Central Avenue and that part of the city, becoming a world-renown medical city," Hooper said Tuesday. "It'll be like the downtown of St. Pete on Beach Drive today versus how it was 20 years ago. I think we're headed that way."

There is reason to believe success begets success. Last week, All Children's Dr. Raquel Hernandez published original research on childhood obesity. She is part of the hospital's new affiliation with Johns Hopkins University. Research such as hers "...really speaks to outcomes and bringing those outcomes back to our patients and to the population of St. Petersburg, the population of Florida and hopefully national as well," Hernandez said.

And yes, in her opinion, a renowned research hospital is a magnet.

"If you're somebody who's curious as a physician, somebody who asks a lot of questions and says, 'Is this the best care for my patient,' working at a place like All Children's will really facilitate having those questions answered."

The city and the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce have a new partnership aimed at developing a new marketing strategy.

"The labeling of it I think is really important to make sure that we know that's an innovation center down there, that there is a cluster. People want to know that," chamber president Chris Steinocher told FOX 13 News.

Quantifying that presence has already revealed one interesting data point: Health care now employs more people in St. Petersburg than tourism.

"It's big and it pays well and it has a lot of spinoffs to it as well," Steinocher continued. "It's not something we aspire to be, it's something we are. So it gives you a little bit more confidence in your messaging."

There are no certain dates for advancing an effort of this scale. However, the deputy mayor predicted, "This is something that's a priority for the city...so I would expect by the end of the year there will be very tangible movement forward."

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