Mark Twain once said, “Buy land; they’re not making any more.” Undoubtedly, Floridians understand the value of that advice all too well. In 2021, Florida’s population grew by over 210,000 people, nearly exclusively driven by migration. This is equivalent to almost the entire city of St. Petersburg moving to Florida every year. All these new people need homes to live in and places to work. As these people make their homes here many of our communities have undertaken a metamorphosis.
This population increase is most noticeable in already urban population centers and cities. Population density growth is not just a Florida-specific event; population density throughout the United States has risen dramatically after falling over previous decades. As Florida’s urban and suburban areas continue to swell, cities have had to meet the demand and accommodate new residents.
Locally in Tampa Bay, cities are either beginning or continuing large-scale development projects to allow for more efficient cities to support growing density. According to the Downtown St. Pete Development Guide, Downtown St. Petersburg reported a 13% population growth in the last five years and is estimated anywhere between a 30-40% increase in the coming years. This growth has spurred several developments in the downtown St. Petersburg area. The most impactful project is the upcoming 86-acre redevelopment of the Tropicana Field Site. The current plan is to convert the existing baseball stadium and acres of asphalt parking lots into thousands of residential units, 25 acres of parks and green space, a new hotel, a new conference center, and retail and office space. One of the main goals of this project will be to increase the population density while also increasing the city’s walkability.
Over in Tampa, the city is undergoing multiple developments worth billions of dollars to increase efficiency and density. One of the recent upcoming developments is the Rome Yard. Current plans are to convert 18 acres of long-neglected and undeveloped property into a new mixed-use neighborhood with over 900 residential units, retail, workforce training center, community, and park space. Another major development currently underway is Water Street Tampa, a $3.5 billion dollar, 50 acre project that is expected to double the downtown Tampa footprint while adding thousands of residential units, office and retail space, new hotels and acres of public green space. Overall Tampa currently has an estimated $13 billion dollars of new projects in progress.
While some cities are already working with large, established downtown, some are building out their own. The City of Largo’s upcoming City Hall project, the largest project in the city’s history, is planned to activate Largo’s existing but underdeveloped downtown and spur increases in growth and traffic. Biltmore is currently working with Largo on this ambitious project to reimagine their downtown and pave the way for redevelopment of the center downtown core.
This unprecedented growth has required cities to adapt to their residents’ new wants and needs. Housing costs continue to be a substantial barrier of entry for many people who want to move into these ever-growing downtowns. Transportation methods also must be addressed as increased density puts a much greater demand for walkable cities and enhanced public transportation options. To meet the challenge of handling this unprecedented growth will require significant investment in everything from housing, office space, and infrastructure. Expect to see the Tampa Bay skylines continue to grow for the foreseeable future.