An advisory panel has declined to take an official stand on a revised redevelopment plan for Commerce Park, a long-vacant parcel of land within the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area.
The Citizens Advisory Committee for the CRA heard a nearly hour-long presentation on proposed amendments to a lease and development agreement for the area Tuesday night, but did not vote on whether it would support the new plan.
The project has turned into a political hot potato for the city. Backers say it will bring jobs and housing to an economically challenged part of the city, but skeptics question whether local residents will be able to afford the new apartments and have the skills required for the newly created jobs. There’s also an underlying current, rarely voiced publicly, that the largely black business community should make its own determination about development in the area, along the historic black business district.
The St. Petersburg City Council last week asked for input from the committee before making its own decision on the proposed amendments.
“The members of the committee, like I have, have received various comments from individuals who have some concerns,” Dr. Ricardo Davis, chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee, told the St. Pete Catalyst after the meeting. “My sense is that will be appropriately transmitted to the Council and then the Council will make its own deliberation and decision, both as a Council and a redevelopment agency, and we’ll see what happens then.”
The City Council also asked for input from Deuces Live, the Main Street District that encompasses the Historic 22nd Street South Corridor. That organization is remaining neutral on most of the project, Antwaun Wells, board president, said in a letter to the Council.
The Commerce Park project is designed to transform the area between 22nd and 26th Streets South, and 6th Avenue South to Interstate 275. The city acquired the land more than a decade ago, with a promise to create jobs or pay the federal government more than $2 million. But the land has sat vacant for years. The initial lease and development agreement signed in 2016 — designed to bring manufacturing businesses, jobs and some housing to the area — did not work out, city development administrator Alan DeLisle told the Citizens Advisory Committee Tuesday night.
Now, a new investor group with deep pockets wants to take on the development. “We believe the project before you now is a better deal than before,” DeLisle said.
Key components of the new plan are:
• Additional jobs, including for South St. Petersburg CRA residents, most paying $13 an hour or more
• Commitments by six companies to locate in the two 30,000-square-foot industrial buildings planned for the site
• Up to 300 housing units, half of them “workforce” housing for people making between 80 percent and 120 percent of the area’s average median income
• About 5,000-square-feet of retail space, which the developer would make rent free for five years
The new team of investors has the financial ability to make the project happen, and the revised agreement also has strict timelines for project completion, DeLisle said.
There were a handful of opponents to the plan at the Citizens Advisory Committee meeting, including Gina Fote, an artist who owns an acre of land in the Warehouse Arts District a few blocks away.
“I reached out to about 15 local owners and every one of them was opposed to this and they do not feel they have a voice,” Fote said. She also said the city was undervaluing the land.
Another opponent to the plan is T2theS Design and Build, a design firm at 2262 6th Ave. S. The company wants to buy part of the land included in the Commerce Park development package, a tract where Euro Cycles of St. Petersburg planned to build a motorcycle sales and repair shop. That plan never materialized, and the city has gone to court to evict the company.
The Commerce Park development team has right of first refusal on that tract. DeLisle said the developers need the land to make the retail and housing components work.
Deuces Live wants to see a new request for proposals on the Euro Cycles tract, according to its letter to the Council. The organization also called on the city to hold the developers to their promised timelines and other terms, and for the developer to coordinate with Deuces Live on design elements to ensure a harmonious streetscape experience.
The City Council is scheduled to take up the proposed amendments at its Aug. 15 meeting.