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Optimism and prudence on the road to redevelopment in South St. Pete

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Pinellas County commissioners on Tuesday gave the nod to an ambitious revitilization plan for St. Petersburg’s Southside neighborhood.

Roughly 7.5 square miles of concrete jungle, mainly South St. Pete’s — Fourth Street to 49th Street and Second Avenue N to 30th Avenue S — were approved for a Southside Community Redevelopment Plan at the commission’s June 2 meeting.

Ultimately, annual property-tax-hike-dollars will go toward kick-starting various privately invested renewal projects throughout the designated area to fight two familiar foes — blight and poverty — which have won out, or, more realistically, have been forgotten, more than once.

“What you’re trying to do is alleviate blight and poverty throughout this county,” said St. Petersburg Councilman Wengay Newton, who made the drive over to Clearwater to address the commission on this agenda item specifically. “I think it’s a noble concept and I’m happy about the commitment this commission is making. But at the same time […] make sure what you’re doing is intentional.”

Newton, who was born and raised in South St. Pete, went on to remind the commission of the predominantly black community that was displaced to make room for Tropicana Field’s construction in the mid-’80s, a community whose residents lived in what was known as the Gas Plant area and were displaced on the grounds that an economic upswing — which never materialized — would ensue for South St. Pete residents following the Trop’s arrival.

“When the taking of the land came,” Newton added, “[where] Tropicana Field [is now], all that was promised, all the windfall, the development […] it never really [happened].”

Rev. Sheila Griffin, the only other person in attendance to address the commission on the Southside Redevelopment Plan who didn’t directly have a say in its construction, echoed sentiments of a similar kind, naming a handful of prior community redevelopment areas (CRAs) that never quite saw the desired results.

“I remember our intentions when we talked about 16th Street CRA or Jamestown CRA […] or Tangerine CRA, the Dome CRA that never got funded,” Griffin said.

District 7 County Commissioner Kenneth Welch, whose district includes the approved redevelopment area, empathized with both Newton and Griffin.

“The issue of intentions, I think is spot on,” Welch said. “My family, my church, my businesses were where Tropicana Field is now […] there was a whole community in Gas Plant that was relocated, dislocated, on the promise of economic development and jobs that really never came.”

Welch was optimistic in his conclusion, though, highlighting a few attributes unique to the Plan, like the alternative funding source that’s tied to the plan’s tax increment financing, and the six-person oversight committee that will be assembled to monitor the plan’s execution.

Rick Davis, the chairman of the Southside CRA Advisory Committee, further distanced Pinellas County’s newest redevelopment plan from those of the past.

“This plan is not your typical reinvestment plan,” Davis said. “Those plans tend to over-emphasize a focus on bricks and mortars […] but you can’t change poverty in a community unless you increase the purchasing power of the people who live there. So having better landscape, fixing potholes and painting buildings doesn’t do anything to increase the purchasing power of the residents who live in those poor communities […] You have to find the right balance between the traditional infrastructure investment and how you actually put people to work. [And] that’s what this plan does.”

A public hearing on an ordinance to establish a redevelopment trust fund for the plan is next for the county.

Devon Crumpacker is a Tampa Bay based writer and reporter for Extensive Enterprises Media. He primarily covers Pinellas County politics for SaintPetersblog.com, but also makes time to write the occasional bar review for FloridaBarTab.com. He lives in St. Petersburg with his fiance, Sydney. To contact, e-mail devon@floridapolitics.com, or visit his Twitter page @DevonCrumpacker.

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