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$5 million plan for Southside contingent on Rays leaving, not land development

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Last week, St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman announced he wanted to allocate $5 million to parts of South St. Pete as part of a potential deal with the Tampa Bay Rays to let them look outside the city for new stadium locations.

According to Kriseman’s spokesman Ben Kirby, that plan would apply if, and only if, the Rays chose to vacate Tropicana Field and the money would come from the estimated $24 million they’d have to pay to the city to do so.

The Tampa Bay Times reported the money would come from development proceeds and would be applicable only after proceeds reached $10 million.

The differentiation is important for several reasons. First, the first reported plan implies that of the estimated nearly $1 billion in development potential Kriseman is proposing giving only one half of 1 percent to the community originally displaced by Tropicana Field in the first place.

That seems counter-intuitive to Kriseman’s stated intent. According to the Times, Kriseman explained residents “deserve compensation for the destruction of neighborhoods and the economic development that never fully materialized.”

Consider that his plan instead includes just under 21 percent of the potential payout to the city should the Rays leave Tropicana Field before their contract is up and Kriseman’s plan seems a whole lot more generous.

But Kriseman’s plan also seems to leave the Southside high and dry if the Rays decide to stay in St. Pete. Currently the Southside Community Redevelopment Area created to infuse millions into that community does not include Tropicana Field.

So, if the Rays stay in St. Pete and split development proceeds of the 85 acres of land occupied mostly by parking lots, Southside wouldn’t get a dime of that money. Though the city maintains they would still benefit from the economic development.

There’s also this to consider: Kriseman’s plan is just a plan. It’s conceptual at this point and extremely preliminary. It’s hinged on City Council approving the latest Memorandum of Understanding at its meeting this week, which is likely to happen. It’s also contingent on whether or not the Rays decide to stay in St. Pete or move elsewhere.

The bottom line is, $5 million could go a long way in helping improve crime and poverty problems south of Central, but that $5 million is a long way and a lot of contingencies off.

What isn’t far off is $1 million Kriseman has asked his staff to carve out of the current budget to curb violence on the Southside. The area saw a string of murders at the end of 2015 that rocked the community and Kriseman vowed to make fixing the problem a priority.

During an event at the Carter G. Woodson African-American History Museum in Midtown Sunday, Kriseman said the money will be used to address violence in the area immediately.

He has directed his deputy mayor and key city staff to find the money. From there, City Council would have to approve the expense, which it’s likely to do. Then the city would establish a task force to determine how to best use the money to tackle the issue.

Though his proposals come with a series of what-ifs, the plans show a targeted effort by the Mayor’s office to tackle issues long-facing the poor and mostly black communities on the Southside.

While Kriseman acknowledges there is still much to be done, he told residents at the event Sunday that the violence plaguing South St. Pete is his priority, not baseball.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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