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St. Pete enters a new era in entrepreneurship with the unveiling of the ARK Innovation Center



St. Pete enters a new era in entrepreneurship with the unveiling of the ARK Innovation Center

Next month will witness the grand opening of the long-anticipated ARK Innovation Center, establishing a pioneering entrepreneurial hub in Pinellas County.

Cathie Wood, founder of ARK Invest, joined St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, Pinellas County Economic Development Director Cynthia Johnson, and leaders from the Tampa Bay Innovation Center in cutting the ribbon on Monday morning.

The completion of the 45,000-square-foot facility at 1101 4th Street South was celebrated during the ceremony. In the upcoming months, the center’s vacant suites, conference rooms, 3D-printing labs, and prototyping studios will buzz with the presence of engineers, data scientists, and entrepreneurs.

“This state-of-the-art facility is poised to be the birthplace of startups and tech companies that will not only shape the landscape of our city and county but will also contribute to the broader technological advancements for our entire nation,” Welch said.

The Tampa Bay Innovation Center (TBIC), a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting startups, is overseeing the operation of the new facility.

Conversations about the innovation center concept were initiated by TBIC CEO and President Tonya Elmore, along with Chris Paradies, a board member and former chair of the TBIC’s board of directors. These discussions with Mayor Welch and other officials began in the early 2000s.

“The difference between a dreamer and a visionary is concrete, glass and steel,” said Paradies.

“In 2008, when Tonya and I had the idea of building a purpose-built incubator that could be the focal point of innovation in the Tampa Bay-St. Pete region, it was a dream of a place that would bring entrepreneurs together to collaborate and share visions and experiences,” Paradies recalled.

Local leaders expressed continuous gratitude to federal partners and Cathie Wood, the founder and CEO of ARK Invest.

In 2021, Wood moved her investment management firm from New York to downtown St. Pete and secured naming rights for the center in a $2 million deal.

“It [the project] really wouldn’t have happened without Cathie Wood … it [ARK’s stamp on the center] just really changed the dynamic of what this project was going to be,” Elmore said.

ARK’s research team will occupy over 10,000 square feet.

“ARK kind of waltzed in two years ago, attracted by the innovative spirit,” Wood said. “We’re on to something big here, like a new Bay area.”

Alongside ARK’s establishment at the center, the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute (ARM), the country’s premier robotics and artificial intelligence manufacturing innovation institute based in Pennsylvania, has also declared its relocation to the center.

Earlier this year, Point Chaud Coffee & Crepes revealed plans to launch its inaugural Florida location within the ARK Innovation Center. The café presently operates three other establishments in Washington D.C. and Maryland.

TBIC has not released information about additional upcoming tenants.

The ARK Innovation Center, a project valued at nearly $16 million, secured substantial support with $11.3 million in funding from the Federal Economic Development Administration (EDA).

Penny for Pinellas funds were utilized by the county to match the U.S. EDA’s grant award. The City of St. Petersburg played a pivotal role by donating 2.5 acres of land within its Innovation District to facilitate the project. Bandes Construction, the general contracting group, initiated construction on the facility in 2022.

“Bandes was honored to build a project as transformative as the innovation center,” said Jillian Bandes, Construction Manager with Bandes Construction.

The TBIC team anticipates that the center will yield a substantial economic impact, exceeding $120 million. This impact is projected to result from approximately 1,265 jobs created within the first four years.

The facility is designed to accommodate early-stage companies focused on pioneering technologies in the fields of energy, fintech, and artificial intelligence.

“There’s been a spark in startup activity unlike anything we’ve seen in decades,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa native and project advocate.

“I watched St. Petersburg and Pinellas grow out of the sleepy beach towns that defined it decades ago. Over time, you saw businesses like Raymond James, Jabil and HSN [Home Shopping Network] expand, but it’s always been the small businesses and entrepreneurs that are the backbone of the economy.”

For more information on the ARK Innovation Center, visit their website.