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Posts tagged ‘economic development’

St. Pete won’t fall victim to Sweetbay, committed to Midtown’s momentum of growth

It is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in St. Petersburg, FL, and a crowd has gathered at the Sweetbay Supermarket in the Midtown community. Community leaders and elected officials alike spoke with passion about saving the first supermarket that has come into this community since the A&P closed 31 years ago.

RepRusonThe Midtown community is a community that may have become far too used to being slighted, overlooked and forgotten, but a renaissance has begun. Economic development is sparking, and community development is burgeoning in the form of new businesses calling Midtown home. Educational institutions are making an investment here while houses are being refurbished and new ones are being built along with dollars being allocated towards helping this community grow into everything the people of Midtown believed it could be.

One key addition to this revitalization is the Sweetbay Supermarket, located on the corner of 22nd Street and 18th Avenue South. Florida State Representative Darryl Rouson said, “This is more than just a store. We took this property from drug lords. We walked around the block and there were houses here.” Rouson explained that the community decided what it needed most. They needed a grocery store.

And so, this Sweetbay Supermarket opened in 2005 after a lengthy city-led effort in which it invested $1.35 million for the construction of Tangerine Plaza and additional funds to assemble the land for the site. Many financial partners then pitched in with dollars from banking institutions along with county, state and federal funds to make this supermarket a reality.

“This Midtown store is just a number to Sweetbay corporate, but to our community, it is so much more. The city invested blood, sweat and 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.

MayorFosterBut, Sweetbay corporate is not talking, said the mayor, elected officials and business partners, including Urban Development Solutions Developer Larry Newsome. The company has not communicated with the business partners who have money invested in this project, nor the elected officials who have called numerous times requesting a conversation.

“Whatever resources I can bare from the State of Florida. I’ll bring here,” said Ruson. Representative Ruson was one official who publicly stated that he does feel insulted that Sweebay has not bothered contacting the community directly over the closure. Ruson expressed that he is frustrated that he doesn’t know what, if anything, it would take to keep the supermarket here. Addressing Sweetbay directly, he said, “Talk to us at the table to see about gap money.”

Pinellas County School Board member and lifelong Midtown resident Rene Flowers said, “We are a community who will work with people, and we will hold your hand and show you the way.” Flowers expressed her frustration in Sweetbay not showing any signs of being willing to work with the community.

“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.”

Community activist Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter expressed the critical need for a high quality grocery store in the community. “There are people right down this street who don’t have a vehicle. Their only choice was to buy meet from one of these meat markets that don’t keep their food at the right temperature. I’ve gone in myself and told [the store owners], ‘Either you clean this damn store, or I’m calling the health department.’”

Mamma Tee explained that she has shown people how they can walk down to Sweetbay, spend some money on groceries and take a cab home with a few dollars they have left so that they can buy all they need versus just a few things at a time, which they can carry home.

Not only is this about a community’s access to nutritious food, this also is about jobs, and this is being taken very seriously. Flowers said that the Urban League has committed to make sure the Sweetbay store employees will be able to “feed their families.” Likewise, Councilmember Wengay Newton stated that Wal-Mart has committed to helping these employees with jobs if Sweetbay does indeed close the store.

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker also was present. Baker was the acting mayor when the plans for this Sweetbay were being made, and Foster was then on the City Council—Baker came to lend his support to this critical resource in the community and to support Mayor Foster’s efforts to save this store. Baker explained that this store is a large part in the vision he shares with Foster to have a seamless city. He explained that you cannot have a seamless city when people in one neighborhood have to take a bus to get to critical services such as a grocery store, a pharmacy, a post office.

For right now, elected officials, business partners and community members alike are simply asking that Sweetbay release the numbers and agree to a conversation to explore ways that this particular Sweetbay can remain open. The community is willing to do what it takes to keep this partnership going if possible.

Via Daphne Taylor Street. You can contact Daphne at daphnestreet@daphnestreet.com

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A message to St. Petersburg, Florida: what economic development SHOULD mean to the city.

Hello St. Petersburg. This is a personal note to my city: Yes, you are my birthplace, my definition of home. You were the landscape of most of the greatest moments in my life and most profound experiences. You raised me, taught me about life, love, disappointment, forgiveness and redemption. I know you well. You know me well. I’m worried about you.

Central Avenue

Your downtown area has come a long way since my childhood, but not without cost.

You’re much more beautiful than I remember–landscaping, building renovations and a really cool strip of art galleries, restaurants and shops streaming down Central Ave. First Fridays were a brilliant idea. Even with all of this, your arts culture is quite understated. Possibly more understated than in the 70s and 80s when it was still just a toddler, learning how to walk on your city streets.

Then, people were on fire about possibilities and growing the culture. There was a successful, dedicated, for-profit local arts magazine, and people were excited to volunteer, promote and fund-raise for the arts. They were passionate about attending concerts, exhibits and shows. Now, well, things are a bit less passionate–a community more difficult to motivate and patrons and benefactors are increasingly challenging to cultivate.

I understand the economy is nothing short of frightening. I understand that the arts may not be top on the list of priorities and initiatives to charge revitalization and business sustainability in St. Petersburg for its citizens. I get you. I really do. I’m asking you to try to put all the fear aside for just a moment right now. For just this moment, think only in terms of possibilities and opportunities. Think about vision. What do you see? I challenge you to consider that he arts may very well be the one thing that matters most in St. Petersburg RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW.

You need to improve education: the arts are an immeasurable vessel to introduce youth and young adults to applied interdisciplinary studies and to help cultivate creative critical thinking and problem-solving skills (I’ll write a separate post on this next–I promise). You need to attract big talent in business, commerce, investing, entertainment and design: just give them a reason to be here. Give them a place where they, their families and their peers will be fed and inspired. They’ll come, and they will help you solve any additional problems that may come with a sudden spike in population, because they know how to solve problems and they want to stay and invite others.

Why is St. Petersburg the best place to do this thing? At the start, you have two–TWO incredible museums, the likes of which no other Floridian city can compare: 1) St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts & 2) Salvador Dali Museum.

Let’s be clear–the value (artistic, monetary and historical) standing collection in the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts is nothing less than a priceless prize. The collection is so exquisite, just in its standing collection alone (e.g. Monet, O’Keeffe). Very few museums today would ever be able to afford a collection like this–one that we are blessed to have right along our waterfront.

Salvador Dali, a consummate leader in the Surrealist Movement, he later moved into scientific and religious subjects and finally into the classic style, his mastery of painting technique is not criticized. Never confined to a style nor artistic medium, Dali also left behind sculpture, film, performance art and photography for us to enjoy. The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg houses the most comprehensive collection of Dali’s work, and the museum has an incredible reputation of continuously finding innovative ways of exhibiting and showcasing this extraordinary art.

Not to mention, St. Petersburg, you have a sensational presence of galleries, a concert hall, small theatres and outstanding resident visual and performing artists and arts teachers. All of these treasured buildings and art collections mixed with incredibly talented people–ah, the people. Yet, the world still does not think of St. Petersburg, Florida as a substantial creative locale–a place to be culturally fed and nurtured with small-venue opportunities for artists and aspiring artists to learn and practice, hone their craft and debut the next BIG thing in the arts. Why not?

St. Petersburg has everything it needs to be the primordial ooze of artistic development–to cultivate and nurture outstanding, world-class visual and performing artists. It has all of the elements needed to be the birthplace of progressive artistic and cultural movements.

Concerned about cost? It’s free! Well, at least low-cost, and certainly fodder for prime grantwriting opportunities (wink, wink, nudge, nudge): National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities on just the federal level alone.

St. Petersburg waterfront

Already, you have the urbanized conveniences needed within your city or very close-by: fine dining and casual dining, some 24-hour businesses, nearly every service and large-chain is well-represented in most neighborhoods. It is a hot competative sailing destination and lauded fishing locale. Let’s not forget, also, the spectacular coastlines, beaches and sunshine. This is Florida. This is St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg, what we are lacking is a targeted, unified vision; an organized, passionate movement; and sincere belief that this will come to fruition–that this is the destiny of St. Petersburg’s future. So, what will it be, St. Petersburg? What do you have to lose by trying and giving it your all? What would you have to gain? Will you share in the vision? Will you dare to be great?

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