Revamped agency not making blight of the problem
Updated: Thursday, June 5th, 2014 | By Joshua Gillin
Rick Kriseman campaigned on strengthening St. Petersburg neighborhoods, in part by speeding up the process of clearing the city of condemned homes.
The new mayor set to work immediately, creating a Neighborhood Affairs Department and hiring Mike Dove as the agency's head. Dove was former deputy mayor for neighborhood services before retiring in 2006.
He has assumed responsibilities previously handled by leisure and community services. Kriseman split the two functions, putting things like parks, libraries and golf courses in one area and housing, social services and codes compliance under Dove.
When Kriseman took office, St. Petersburg had 830 vacant homes, including a backlog of about 150 condemned homes the city needed to demolish.
Dove has set to work on the process, meeting with investors and rehab groups to deal with the vacant properties -- for example, helping close a deal with a North Carolina-based nonprofit called Builders of Hope to sell 73 empty homes in the Midtown area for rehabilitation -- and scheduling demolition for the rest.
Benjamin Kirby, the mayor's communications director, said the number of boarded-up or vacant homes already had shrunk to 781 as of the end of May, a "dramatic" decrease in that span of time.
He also said Dove had reprioritized the demolitions and was working with the county on asbestos removal in many of those homes.
"You can't just take a bulldozer and bulldoze the house," Kirby said. "There's an entire removal process that's involved, which takes time do safely."
Since Jan. 2, Kirby said, 28 structures have been torn down through the city's condemnation and demolition program. That number does not include structures demolished by the owner.
The promise was to "expedite" demolition, however. How does this year compare to the rate at which homes were being demolished under former Mayor Bill Foster? The city tells us that from Jan. 2 to June 1, 2013, there were 25 homes torn down.
Three more in the same time time frame doesn't seem much faster, but Kirby says more will be coming down soon. Because some homes are still awaiting demolition, we rate this promise In The Works.
Tampa Bay Times, "St. Petersburg swears in Mayor Rick Kriseman with showy outdoor ceremony," Jan. 2, 2014
Tampa Bay Times, "Editorial: St. Pete's renewed effort on vacant homes," May 15, 2014
Tampa Bay Times, "Editorial: Kriseman promises, now must deliver," April 30, 2014
Interview with Benjamin Kirby, mayor's communications director, May 30 and June 2-4, 2014