When Pinellas County Commissioners handed over the keys to an expansive community hub last year, they hoped a unique public-private partnership would bolster its impact; the venture exceeded expectations.
The Lealman Exchange (LEX) is a 77,000-square-foot, six-acre campus built to provide programming and services that meet the needs of an underserved community with over 30,000 residents. The St. Petersburg Foundation (SPF) began partnering with Pinellas officials in April 2022 and assumed daily operations of the county-owned facility that August.
SPF is the philanthropic arm of the St. Petersburg Group, which owns the St. Pete Catalyst. Amy Cianci, project manager and engagement director, said the local nonprofit has two functions -managing and activating LEX and creating a collective impact.
A collective impact occurs when leaders representing various sectors work together to achieve a common goal. Commissioner Dave Eggers said he was “amazed” at the various elements SPF has implemented through its first year.
“It’s almost like property management on steroids,” Eggers added. “Improving facilities and providing events. Providing classrooms, getting outside partnerships and donations – just an amazing effort.”
Chris Moore, assistant to the county administrator, said Community Foundation Tampa Bay was an early supporter that contributed over $200,000. However, He said the nonprofit’s collective impact development expertise was far more valuable to the initiative’s success.
Cianci told commissioners that the partners established a Collective Impact Activation Group with over 75 participants. A smaller Guiding Group serves as an executive team.
Joe Hamilton, SPF board member and Catalyst publisher, called the combined efforts “an experiment in public-private partnerships.” He noted that early conversations with county officials centered on programming aspects.
While “it wasn’t easy,” Hamilton said assuming all management responsibilities allowed the SPF to “unleash the power of the private element.” The nonprofit’s leadership overhauled operations and is now under budget.
He said increased revenue has led to a budget surplus that allowed LEX officials to hire an onsite property manager and a needs navigator, and implement additional operational efficiencies.
“I think it is something that is noteworthy – not only in this area but perhaps even nationally – that we ran this experiment together,” Hamilton added. “And the county did something it has never done before to innovate, and it has really worked so far in the first year.”
Cianci told commissioners how SPF created a meeting room it rents to community members for functions. She called the LEX gymnasium, open to various organizations, “fantastic.”
The YMCA is a long-time anchor tenant, and Cianci said SPF officials strengthened that relationship over the past 15 months. The YMCA now has five offices at LEX that house a literacy initiative and senior and children’s programming.
She said the Broach School rebranded to the CES Academy and expanded teaching space to increase student capacity. A daycare also operates at LEX, and Cianci said SPF bolstered security measures.
AmSkills recently opened a workforce training center with two laboratories at the facility. Cianci said the St. Petersburg Free Clinic supplied its needs navigator and rents office space.
She told commissioners that funding opportunities increased with the collective impact.
“About six months into this project, I really thought I was going to have to start knocking on doors, making phone calls, reaching out to area organizations and sort of begging for help,” Cianci said. “That was absolutely the opposite experience. Organizations came to us; they want to partner with the Lealman Exchange – they know what we’re trying to do in the Lealman community.”
Duke Energy, the St. Petersburg Free Clinic and the YMCA provided substantial donations. The American Heart Association contributed $3,200 for kitchen refrigerators.
Nearly 200 Pinellas residents took shelter at LEX as Hurricane Ian approached the state in September 2022. Cianci said the facility’s kitchen would soon undergo construction to reach a “commercial level.”
That will enable the public-private partnership to better provide for onsite children, nearby schools and residents during emergencies. SPF also created a new LEX website and increased marketing efforts.
In addition, Cianci said the nonprofit partnered with the St. Petersburg Group and Catalyst to create the Lealman Voice newsletter. She hopes to expand the bi-weekly publication that shares community and partner highlights.
Cianci’s husband is a fifth-generation “Lealmanite,” and she has lived in the community for 20 years. “So, obviously, this project hits a lot of key points with me on a personal level,” she said.
Its progress is resonating with county officials. Commissioner Kathleen Peters, like others, said she would like to recreate and expand the innovative public-private partnership’s model.
“Because I think it’s outstanding,” Peters added.