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Good afternoon ladies and gentleman.
First, thank you to Ms. Raven Parham for the warm welcome. I am always excited to see youth in this area doing great things. Let us give her another round of applause.
It is my distinct honor and great privilege this afternoon to welcome you to the 2015 State of the City Address and to report to you that the state of this great City…Petersburg, Virginia is growing strong.
We have had a fantastic year and I am proud to say that we are consistently moving forward in a positive direction because of the diligent effort, collegial teamwork and sincere dedication of our strong and very professional City Council, City Manager, William E. Johnson, III, City staff, our well run conscientious volunteer boards and commissions, and most importantly, because of the caring, generous and engaged employees, residents and businesses of Petersburg.
Today, I stand before you proud and humbled to be your mayor. It is truly an honor to serve this city… this city that I have lived in for the last 12 years and the city that continues to inspire me and the city that has become my cherished home.
Thank you for taking the time to be here this afternoon. Your presence is evidence of your interest and your commitment to make Petersburg a city that we all are proud to call home.
Now, I would like to recognize the officials present today….
Would you please join me in acknowledging my colleagues on City Council: John Hart, Samuel Parham, Treska Wilson-Smith, David Coleman and Brian Moore.
I would also like to recognize the members of the Petersburg School Board and Superintendent Dr. Joseph Melvin.
I want to thank each of you for this opportunity to stand here as your partner in conversation – but also as your partner in action.
Before going any further, let us pause for a moment of silence to remember a special person who left us last month – The Honorable Carl “Mike” Ross.
With his passing, the city lost a great friend and patron. Mike’s love for Petersburg and his deep belief in a responsibility to give back to the community and his commitment to serve, were expressed through his leadership and support of initiatives that have greatly benefitted our community. Mike’s death leaves a void that will be difficult, if not impossible, to fill.
We all miss him greatly.
Four years ago, when I first started on City Council, Petersburg was so different from where we are now.
Today, we are emerging from a recession as a vibrant and growing city, attracting new residents, businesses and visitors.
People are falling back in love with Petersburg.
We love our city for becoming a destination for history buffs, foodies, antique shoppers and even movie production crews.
Petersburg is the home to the film “Lincoln”, AMC’s “Turn” and just recently announced by the Governor’s office, a new television film series on PBS.
At the end of last year Petersburg was featured in Style Weekly and Business in Focus Magazine, and noted for our development incentives and historic treasures.
Through hard work and determination, we have turned our home into the city it is today. That’s what makes Petersburg so great. Our momentum is unprecedented but, our work is not complete and there is much more that we want for our city
We must seize the moment, we must be bold and we must be innovative --- where all of us want our great city to be.
We must be willing to embrace new practices – even when they may be as disruptive as they are constructive.
Whether born here or drawn here, we all share that same Petersburg spirit to never be satisfied, but always seeking new opportunities and always striving to realize new possibilities.
This is the ‘I Am Petersburg’ spirit.
This ‘I Am Petersburg’ spirit is a culture, a lifestyle that embodies the Petersburg heritage, history, its people and most importantly, a love for this city.
Petersburg has that small town charm with a heart of a big city.
By listening to our residents, our businesses, our youth, our employees, hearing concerns and addressing them head on, over the past year we have began to deliver that city.
We are delivering safer streets, improved housing, great parks, a great library, a transit station, better education, sports, employment opportunities, green initiatives, access to the river, great festivals, events, great shopping, new restaurants, and even more awaits us!
What lies before us is an opportunity to reshape what it means to be a progressive city.
So, as I talk with you today about the State of the City, I will do so remembering and learning from the past, embracing the present, while reaching for the future.
So, let us get down to business. Today, I would like to address the state of the city of Petersburg from three perspectives:
1. Tell you about some of the new and exciting things going on in Petersburg
2. Explain our top priorities for the next four years, and then finally,
3. To introduce some ideas that the City will be working on in the coming years to continue moving our city forward.
So first, let me give you a quick update on what is happening in this great city of ours.
At our January City Council meeting, the city received the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2014. This report reflected a vast improvement in our financial position from the previous fiscal year.
I am proud of our school administration, teachers, support staff and most importantly our children.
We kicked off year round schooling last year at AP Hill Elementary and Peabody Middle Schools. This is the City’s dedication to making sure our children receive quality education and are prepared to seek further education, equipped for the work world, and challenged to explore career opportunities when they graduate.
I look forward to continuing to work with our dedicated School Board to make sure our children receive a top-notch education.
Petersburg is warmly regarded as “little Hollywood” and our city was used as a backdrop to major films and television shows, like” Ithaca and Turn”.
We had Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in town and every time I saw one of those crew directional signs on Washington Street, I smiled because I realized people love Petersburg as much as we do.
In January 2015, the Virginia Film Office reported that for every one dollar invested, there was an eight-dollar return on investment realized through tourism and local businesses.
Petersburg is becoming a foodie city with new restaurants popping up all over.
We celebrated the expansion of Maria’s and Simona’s and the opening of Alibi’s, Buttermilk Bake Shoppe and 16 West last year. We look forward to other restaurants opening soon and adding to the plethora of food choices in the area.
Governor McAuliffe announced on October 30, 2014 the arrival of Unitao Pharmauceuticals, LLC in Petersburg. Unitao will invest $22.5 million and create 376 new jobs at its facility located at 2820 North Normandy Drive. This will be their first United States presence and we are so excited they chose Petersburg as their home.
Last month, we began the restoration of Southside Depot of what will soon become a contact center for our National Park Service allowing patrons an opportune experience to learn about the great history of this city. And, that project will continue to expand as the future phases of development will really turn the historic depot into a top destination for Petersburg.
Bon Secours also established their first presence in Petersburg at the end of last year. A 5,000 square foot Primary Medical Care Facility, located within the Freedom Support Center, which opened on December 16, 2014.
Our new state of the art library opened on April 26, 2014. Total checkouts reached the highest levels ever achieved in the 90-year history of the Petersburg Public Library System. We are proud of this new gem in the city.
The redevelopment of the BB&T Building located at 30 Franklin St. has started. This will be the new location for the Visitor’s Center and our Economic Development and Tourism departments. The anticipated completion date is March 2016.
The City is also concentrating on the new development in the South Crater Road corridor. This area is becoming a true cornerstone for retail, living, entertainment and even health for the entire city.
For the first time ever, we have established our government access channel with Comcast, on Channel 15. This broadcast will allow us to provide another avenue of information and increase engagement throughout our community.
Petersburg was awarded a five-year renewal of the Central Business District Enterprise Zone. The Central Business District Enterprise Zone is now authorized through 2019. This means that the incentives offered by the state and local government through our Enterprise Zone can be offered though 2019 in the general downtown area. For businesses it means an opportunity to avail themselves of permit fee waivers, connection fee reductions, facade grants, job grants, etc. For the City it is another tool in our toolbox for attracting new business and development.
Petersburg is also making its mark in becoming a sports industry leader.
Later this spring, we are welcoming the inaugural Petersburg Half Marathon and 5K race, where almost four thousand walkers and runners will fill the streets of Petersburg and be active.
Just last week we broke ground on the long awaited Dogwood Trace Golf Course Clubhouse. This gorgeous new facility will be complete September 2015.
The City also will soon have a new basketball facility by NBA player and Prince George native, Reggie Williams that will hopefully be home to AAU tournaments to bring more people to the area.
In our obligation to deliver safe and livable communities, the City also experienced a decrease in crime with a 31% reduction in property crimes and 27% in major crimes.
We are thankful for the work of Petersburg Police Department under the leadership of Chief John I Dixon III, as we continue to make Petersburg a safe place to live.
I am also pleased to report an increase in ridership for the Petersburg Area Transit and the potential of starting its new route in Colonial Heights. We will know this decision soon from Colonial Heights City Council. We all know that providing access to transportation for our residents is crucial to employment and mitigating poverty. We are proud of the great strides our transit system continues to make.
So, as you can see the city is progressing and moving forward fast. But, even though we have made these significant strides, we must keep our sleeves rolled up to continue the hard work that needs to be done.
Next, I want to discuss our top priorities that in actuality really build upon the city’s heartbeat and current momentum.
As the economy improves, we must continue to look for ways to support and enhance economic development.
We must consider all of our resources to lure new businesses and other revenue generators in a competitive environment.Since 2005, the City of Petersburg has experienced an uptick in business and foot traffic and encourages companies to continue to invest in the city to help expand the city’s economic base. From 2005 through 2013 there has been new development constructed downtown representing in excess of $133 million in private capital investment. And most recently, Petersburg will be home to the first brewery in the Tri Cities area.To continue attracting potential developers and new businesses, the City is laser focused on Exit 52, the gateway into Petersburg, and our additional gateways to Virginia State University, the Halifax Triangle and Old Towne.
Just last week, we met with our legislative delegation about the $3.5 million budget amendment from the Commonwealth.
The former Fort Lee Regency Hotel located at 380 E. Washington Street is the second hotel property acquired by the City on Exit 52. This acquisition is part of the Cities effort to improve the exit 52 gateway into Petersburg.
When tournaments and film production crews are in town and visiting, they need somewhere to lay their head, so it is crucial for the City to bring hotels and a sense of pride to the front door of Petersburg.
Financial policies were adopted by Council and implemented by Administration during FY14 that helped to improve the City’s financial position. Building fund balances and maintaining fiscal integrity will allow us to achieve the highest bond rating, which in turn saves the city money.
The workforce development and training opportunities for our community is vital as we continue to progress as a city, we must focus on the advancement for the people who live here as well.
We will continue collaborating with Virginia Cooperative Extension Services in providing a curriculum aimed at managing income and benefits, with the goal of moving clients from dependency to self-sufficiency.
Our commitment to workforce and training is also for those in the later years of their career, our veterans and military. I am so proud of our Petersburg Freedom Support Center. In 2014, we opened our expansion site within five months of operation for education and training and increased from five to 18 on site providers to deliver maximum services and resources for our area military.
The relationship we have with our area colleges and universities including Virginia State University and Richard Bland is vital.
We are excited about the new relationship with Dr. Pamela Hammond, the new interim president for VSU and our continued relationship with Dr. Debbie Sydow at Richard Bland.
In the coming months, we will be continuing our longstanding internship relations with VSU, and developing an internship program with our public information office, so students can learn the in’s and out’s of city government communications and public relations.
Our Department of Cultural Affairs and Tourism have been working exceptionally hard hosting events that attract hundreds of people to enjoy Petersburg. Events like the International Film Festival and even this month, during Black History Month, the city is the place for great activity.
Thank you even more to the Chamber of Commerce and for their great events and initiatives they have led. We look forward again to the Barbecue Festival in April and the Grapes and Hops later this year.
For 2015, the City is dedicated to even more quality events that draw residents and tourists from near and far and really highlight the potential that Petersburg offers.
City Council had the esteemed privilege of earning the Virginia Municipal League Green Government Challenge Gold Certification for successfully implementing environmental policies and taking practical actions to reduce carbon emissions. This year we are even more focused on our efforts to make Petersburg a green-friendlier city and to keep our city clean.
The City has successfully accumulated over 16,119 hours of litter to contribute to the beautification of our City streets and roadsides and collected 1,770 tons of residential curbside recyclables with our partner CFS. The City’s participation in curbside recycling is important because there is a financial return on our investment. A portion of the dollars we spend come back to our taxpayers.The challenge still stands for the City of Petersburg to collect 4,000 tons of recyclables by summer 2015.The future is bright and the energy is high.
For future projects, a new City Hall is vital to our economic growth. The decision to delay this project this year was a smart move, but we must hold steadfast in making sure this goal is carried out in the years to come. A modern, up to date facility that our community and employees can use is the right thing to do.
Homeownership is an important goal for everyone. It is more than bricks and mortar, but is improved health and school outcomes for children, increased civic engagement and volunteerism, reduced crime and higher lifetime wealth.
Next, the development of our parks is a discussion that needs to take place as we continue to add to the amenities of the city and access to the river. A development on the riverfront would be a great-added dimension to tourism, adding an outdoor venue amongst our natural waterway, the Appomattox River.
The dredging of the Appomattox River is also a priority. The City is continuing to work with the Core of Engineers and our federal lobbying group to make this happen.
The redevelopment of Virginia Avenue School into a health, recreation and wellness center is also a focus.
Also, let us not forget about year round hydroponics in partnership with VSU at the Harding Street Recreation Center. Community gardens provide access to better health, fresh fruits and vegetables and overall better living. The most important criteria are that these gardens provide food for individuals in need, build community connects, and educate our next generation about the importance of healthy food and where it comes from.
Finally, another future focus is Collier Yard in Petersburg. A multi-modal station located in Petersburg should be the only decision. Petersburg is the only locality to five major highways. We need the support of our community and the region to make this happen.
At the end of 2014, the City rolled out the new ‘I Am Petersburg’ campaign and I am excited to see the work the campaign will be doing in the coming year to reenergize the area and bring more pride to the city.
This year you will begin to see this campaign extend South to the Carolinas and north to Fredericksburg and of course right in our own back yard.
It’s time for us to acknowledge and to express why we love Petersburg so much. This love of our city starts at home and will radiate to our neighbors, tourists, business seekers, and neighboring cities and counties.
We invite everyone to join us as partners in creative conversation and as partners in action working together to promote our city and evoke that ‘I Am Petersburg’ spirit.
I am pleased to report that the state of our city is strong and is getting stronger.
We will rely on the strong partnerships with the private sector, our local colleges, universities, businesses in the city and our friends at Ft. Lee, and surrounding jurisdictions. Those relationships are crucial.
As we kick off the 15th year of this new century, Petersburg is poised to reach new heights.
Together, we will create a Petersburg for the future that will be sustainable.
Petersburg will once again take its rightful place as a leading city in this region.
And, while we have a lot of work to do, it is important that we recognize what we have already accomplished and how far we have come.
We need the continued support of our community, the strong leadership of our City Council, the great work of our City administration and the dedicated people like you to keep Petersburg growing.
With the help of each of you here today, we are making steady progress in building a better Petersburg. The state of this city is strong, and the future looks bright. It is my honor to serve alongside my city council colleagues as we work to build a better home for ourselves and for our children.
God bless you and God bless the City of Petersburg.
I Am Petersburg…
Thank you very much.