Suntrust Bank. Sweetbay Supermarket. Sylvia’s Queen of Soul Food restaurant. Walgreens.
Those are all businesses that have closed, or are about to close, in south St. Petersburg, the Rev. Dr. Manuel Sykes said Wednesday. Yet, the city seems to have done nothing to help them stay open or to replace the ones that have closed.
City officials could have stepped in with grants or loans or even delayed some actions, Sykes said. But instead of using the city’s power to help those businesses, Sykes said, it almost seems as if St. Petersburg officials stepped in to help some businesses go belly up.
“These things were almost designed to fail,” Sykes said.
Sykes, pastor of Bethel Community Baptist Church and a civic activist, was speaking in front of St. Petersburg City Hall. He, and other concerned residents, had gathered there to demand officials sit down to discuss the business situation in Midtown and answer questions from the community.
Much of the discussion centered on Sylvia’s, which closed earlier this summer. Greg Williams of Aracle Enterprises, which managed the restaurant, agreed management mistakes had been made. But, he said, the restaurant would have been viable with another infusion of cash. But the city refused to provide the necessary help for Sylvia’s to get a loan.
The city also refused to take late payments for the rent because the money came too late, he said.
Sykes agreed the city could have provided help. It has money in the Community Redevelopment District for that, he said. And the city has offered help and incentives for other businesses to succeed. Most notably, he said, the city has encouraged and provided incentives for businesses that will locate across the street from historic Manhattan Casino, where Sylvia’s was located.
“Why has one side of the street come to life?” Sykes asked. “Why has the side gone dark?”
All the community wants, he said, is a level playing field that provides African-American and minority business owners the same kind of help and deals other businesses receive.