St. Pete leaders vow to retain a supermarket, if not Sweetbay, in Midtown

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As Saint Petersburg gathered to honor Martin Luther King with a parade on Monday, local elected officials and community leaders met today to announce efforts underway to retain a full service grocery store in Midtown following last week’s announcement that three Sweetbay Supermarkets were slated to close in the city, including the store at Tangerine Plaza in Midtown.

That store, located at the corner of 22nd St. S. and 18th Ave., opened in Nov. 2005 after a lengthy city-led effort to bring the Midtown neighborhood its first grocery store. The city invested $1.35 million for the construction of Tangerine Plaza, and additional funds to assemble the land for the site. The project was developed by Urban Development Solutions, who partnered with the Sembler Co. on developing and leasing the plaza. After the city assembled land for the development, it helped orchestrate financing between several partners, including the city, Neighborhood Lending Partners of West Florida, Branch Banking and Trust, and Fifth Third Bank. Financing was also assisted with federal New Markets tax credits.

Participating in the news conference were Mayor Bill Foster, Council Chair Karl Nurse (whose council district includes the Midtown store at Tangerine Plaza), County Commissioner Ken Welch, Representative Darryl Rouson and local leaders including Urban Development Solutions Developer Larry Newsome, Pinellas County Urban League President and CEO Watson Haynes, Pinellas County School Board Member Rene Flowers and others.

Mayor Foster explained that the community first learned of the proposed Sweetbay store closure through news reports late Wednesday evening. By noon Thursday, Mayor Foster and Council Chair Nurse had met with Tangerine Plaza developer Larry Newsome. The Mayor spoke with representatives of Sweetbay Supermarkets and also enlisted support of community leaders to join with him in retaining the grocery store in Midtown.

“This Midtown store is just a number to Sweetbay corporate, but to our community, it is so much more. The city invested blood, sweat, tears and money to bring Midtown its first grocery store. Sweetbay has been a great partner in increasing vitality throughout the 22nd Street Corridor,” said Mayor Bill Foster.        

The city pointed to a list of more than two dozen projects that have come online in Midtown in recent years, totaling more than $200 million in investment. In addition to Tangerine Plaza, projects including the new recreation centers, libraries and schools, a GTE Federal Credit Union, and a full-service U.S. Post Office. There were historic renovations of the Mercy Hospital Site for the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center, the Royal Theater for the Boys and Girls Clubs, Jordan School and the historic railroad station on 22nd Ave. S. In addition, projects included the Job Corps Training Center, housing redevelopments at Jordon Park, the Carter G. Woodson, African-American History Museum, and many more. Projects currently in the works include a Sylvia’s soul food restaurant at the historic Manhattan Casino, an expanding SPC college campus, a redevelopment plan to create a Midtown tax-increment financing district to fund future improvements, and an African American Heritage Trail (see attachments).

“We will continue to have a high quality grocery store at this site in Midtown,” said Council Chair Karl Nurse. “This is about providing quality of life, community pride, and jobs. If it isn’t a Sweetbay store, we will recruit and support another grocery store for our community.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.