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St. Pete officials serving supper to tout Southside improvements

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Petersburg city officials are inviting residents to enjoy a “Sunday Best Supper” at the Carter G. Woodson African-American History Museum where the administration will share its progress in improving conditions in the Southside.

Neighborhoods south of Central Avenue are among some of the poorest in the city. Midtown and Childs Park are particularly plagued by poverty and crime.

While the struggles facing many Southside residents are nothing new, the ongoing problems in many of those neighborhoods have been particularly thrust into the spotlight over the past two years of the Mayor Rick Kriseman administration.

The dinner, really more of a lunch, begins at 2 p.m. Sunday with a second one at 3:30. Doors open for each 15 minutes early. Meals are free, but residents wishing to attend must RSVP to the city. Reserved spaces can be obtained by emailing urbanaffairs@stpete.org or calling 727-893-7885.

Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin and Director of Urban Affairs Niki GaskinCapehart are likely to talk about successes in the south of Central communities.

Among the most pivotal is the newly created Southside Community Redevelopment Area that stands to infuse millions of dollars into the area through dedicated property tax revenue. Although the CRA has yet to be fully established, it’s a beacon of light for residents who long for better youth services, more jobs and better job training, education and outreach.

Since its creation in May, the CRA has provided 57 emergency repairs, 44 purchasing assistance opportunities and given 26 homes rehab assistance.

Under the city’s 2020 plan in partnership with the 2020 Plan, the city created 200 additional employment and workforce readiness opportunities. That served more than 450 students this year.

The city also increased its fiscal year 2016 budget by nearly $900,000 to make room for “historic levels for youth employment.”

The city has also made great progress in developing and improving the Skyway Marina District spanning 34th Street South from 54th Avenue South north to about where the Ceridian building is located, 3201 34th St. S.

Improvements in that area include signs, better lighting, streetscaping and, most importantly, the expansion of Jabil into the Ceridian building. Leaders at St. Petersburg College have also vowed to partner with the city to provide job training for residents to find jobs in the expanded center.

Under Kriseman’s watch, the city has also implemented a number of policies that particularly benefit residents in poorer South St. Pete communities. Kriseman “banned the box,” which allows residents with criminal pasts to fill out job applications with the city without indicating past criminal history.

That move is considered crucial in ensuring reformed residents are able to stay reformed by finding meaningful employment. The city still conducts background checks, but only applicable criminal records would prohibit an ex-offender from being hired. That would include scenarios like crimes against children for an applicant seeking to work with or around children.

Kriseman also tweaked the city’s high-speed chase policy to reduce the number of residents hurt or killed during pursuits. Police have been long criticized for threatening harm on individuals in high-crime neighborhoods for chasing suspects in minor crimes. Now police cannot pursue a suspect for minor offenses.

Kriseman also bravely dismissed a panel of applicants for the top spot in the city’s police department. Instead, he hired former Clearwater Police Chief Anthony Holloway. Holloway’s successful “Park, Walk, Talk” policy aims at improving relationships with residents in poor neighborhoods where tensions with law enforcement were boiling over.

Kriseman has ushered in a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in St. Pete to replace the shuttered Sweetbay and eliminate Midtown as a food desert. He’s also served as mayor for the opening of SPC’s new Midtown campus — though both efforts began under his predecessor’s watch.

Neighborhoods in the Southside still have a flurry of problems to overcome. Most notably, attention has been cast toward five failing elementary schools in the area. Since the Tampa Bay Times’ “Failure Factories” exposé this year, Kriseman has hired an education liaison to help improve outcomes for students. He’s voiced a commitment to youth services including after school programs and after school jobs.

While Southside is far from where its residents would like it to be, there has been considerable progress during the past two years.

The dinner is likely to play on many of those while still looking ahead toward the future.

Those attending the dinner will eat under the tree in front of the museum. The city is asking participants to park at the SPC Midtown campus just down the road on 22nd Street. They’re offering a free shuttle between the two destinations.

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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