What was once the worst kept secret in Midtown made its official splash this morning, and quickly became a pawn in the increasingly partisan St. Petersburg mayoral race.
Mayor Bill Foster, along with former Mayor Rick Baker, City Council member Karl Nurse and others joined a group of job seekers to promote the hiring event for the long-awaited Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in Midtown.
A line of about 250 applicants snaked down the sidewalk in front of the former Midtown Youth and Family Enrichment Center, known as the old Jordan Park Gym at 1201 22 St. S. Wal-Mart employees holding clipboards discussed job opportunities at the 39,000-square-foot Neighborhood Market in Tangerine Plaza, the former Sweetbay Supermarket.
In what seemed to be a bit of political one-upmanship, Foster’s press conference proclaiming the hiring event as bringing jobs to as many as 100 local residents coincided with a press conference a few blocks away by former Gov. Charlie Crist announcing his endorsement of rival Rick Kriseman for mayor.
When asked if the contrasting events in south St. Pete were a sign of increased partisanship in supposedly non-partisan municipal elections, Foster blasted both Kriseman and the Democrats for inserting party politics into the race.
“It’s true, and it’s a bad thing,” Foster said, adding, “There is no sign of letting up.”
Repeating his mantra of “there is no party in filling potholes,” the Mayor decried the dueling press conferences as Kriseman “fishing for endorsements” instead of chasing job creation for the city’s residents.
Getting Kriseman in office “is the number one priority of the Democratic party,” Foster said, insisting he had to seek support from the GOP so he can compete.
Last week, Foster received the endorsement of Florida’s current GOP Gov. Rick Scott.
Nurse, whose district includes Tangerine Plaza, sees Wal-Mart’s action as another sign of “upward momentum” in Midtown. In addition to the new grocery store, Nurse is continuing to work for designating Midtown as a Community Redevelopment Area (CRA).
A CRA would open the area to a series of grants and tax breaks for businesses opening in the area. The Dome Industrial area, downtown and Beach Drive are also a few the existing CRA’s in the City of St. Petersburg.
“There are 40 housing units being built in the area in the next 18 months, with hundreds to go,” Nurse said. “The momentum is clear.”
Nurse feels that being a “cheerleader” to attract non-profits to Midtown — including a veteran’s group and two organizations out of Tampa interested in working in the south part of the city — will create a “tipping point” for other, for-profit business to enter the region.
If all things happen as planned, according to Nurse, Midtown should see significant progress in the next 12 months.
According to officials, the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market is set to open in January 2014 while training and hiring occur by this December.