For months, community leaders from south St. Petersburg have lobbied city officials asking to take over the historic Manhattan Casino and make it a place to display African-American art and history.
They even gave officials a petition with more than 1,000 signatures supporting a proposal to move the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African-American Museum to the site.
But city officials have nixed that idea and, instead, are looking for a tenant willing to open a restaurant and event venue or catering business on the property at 642 22nd St. S. The city also would consider a retail tenant.
“It’s not even written in such a way that we would be eligible” to apply, said Terri Lipsey Scott, chair of the Woodson Museum. “It’s an absolute slight.”
The Manhattan Casino ranks as one of the most historic sites for St. Pete’s African-American community. Built in 1925, the venue became noted for its contributions to African-American art and culture. Some of the most legendary performers played there before it closed in 1968. Among them were James Brown, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, and Fats Domino.
The site reopened in 2013 as Sylvia’s, a soul food restaurant. The restaurant had financial difficulties and the city took back possession of the property earlier this year.
Since then, Scott and others have urged city officials to allow the Woodson Museum to expand to the location. The idea, Scott said, would have been to use the current museum property, 2240 9th Ave. S., as a cultural center and expand the museum to the Manhattan Casino site.
Instead, on Thursday, city council members authorized advertising for developers, end-users, and interested parties to submit a plan for leasing and running a restaurant and event venue or catering business from the site.
The city does not plan to let the building sit while waiting for a tenant.
“During this interim period while the city seeks a restaurant to fill the void left by Sylvia’s closing, the city has the opportunity to utilize and program the second floor space,” the proposal says. “In order to honor the Manhattan Casino’s rich, vibrant history and ensure it remains a lively gathering space, the city of St. Petersburg will soon be accepting private event reservations.”
The deadline for submitting a proposal is 1 p.m. Nov. 21.