We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2022 and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2022.
As 2021 drew to a close in St. Petersburg, local leaders heard studies detailing the racial disparity and systemic racism that was not only pervasive throughout the city’s history but also persisted to this day.
However, there are reasons for optimism.
The city council recently voted to follow recommendations outlined in the systemic racism study, and in just three days St. Petersburg will welcome its first Black mayor in Ken Welch. There are also several projects in the works designed to uplift the Black community and restore the area affectionately known as The Deuces to its former glory.
Rev. Louis Murphy Sr. is one of many local leaders focused on creating more opportunities for St. Pete’s African American community in 2022. Murphy is a senior pastor for the Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church and a member of the Sankofa Vision Group that hopes to transform the 22nd Street South corridor through several ambitious projects.
“So, when you say one big thing, it’s just a multitude of things that are happening,” said Murphy. “But the gist of it all is economic empowerment for people within the community.”
Murphy said a focal point is creating business opportunities and helping entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground. He added that providing education and creating affordable housing are other key aspects of his goals for the new year, and the Sankofa on the Deuces project encompasses his vision.
The Sankofa project sits directly across the street from the historic Manhattan Casino. Murphy said the mixed-use development would feature between 20 and 26 two-story townhomes, affordably sold to families making 60-120% of the Area Median Income (AMI). The site also will feature 28,000 to 35,000 square feet of retail, office, food service, business incubator and co-working space.
Sankofa also plans to create a development fund using seed money from the project’s revenue. This funding will help grow projects along The Deuces and other major corridors with below-market loans and equity.
In addition to the Sankofa project, Murphy is also working with developer Sugar Hill Group LLC to open a grocery store in the dormant Tangerine Plaza located along 22nd Street and 18th Avenue South. City administration is considering a proposal to bring the local, Black-owned Taste of the Islands grocery store to an area considered a “food desert.”
“Again, we want to try and help minorities, give them a boost in their business,” said Murphy. “And then also to encourage people to patronize these businesses because the businesses along Central and Beach Drive – they thrive.
“But it’s hard to get people to come into our community and patronize the businesses there.”
Murphy said he would promote the area’s businesses throughout the new year and ensure those businesses feature products and services attractive to anyone throughout the city.
“The whole concept is to create foot traffic along Deuces, from Fifth Avenue South all the way up to 18th Avenue South,” added Murphy. “Create that foot traffic that no matter what your culture, race or economic status, you will be able to find something along the Deuces that would cater to your needs and desires.”
Murphy said he is also considering projects based around cryptocurrency and wants to bring more performing arts to The Deuces – anything to entice residents from outside the immediate area to visit, work and play. He said he envisions bringing the same atmosphere prevalent along Central Avenue to the 22nd Street corridor.
Murphy noted that Black churches have traditionally been an anchor and catalyst for growth in the African American community and said Mt. Zion Baptist Church is also undertaking major projects in the new year.
Murphy said the sanctuary is undergoing renovations, and the church has already invested about $1 million in audio and video upgrades. Those upgrades will enhance online and virtual church services critical during the pandemic and in an increasingly digital world.
Murphy is especially excited about the early childhood learning center the church is constructing. The center will serve about 300 children ages five and under, and Murphy said the church’s Christian Academy would most likely expand from kindergarten through fifth grade to kindergarten through eighth grade.
Murphy said a family life center is also in the works to provide access to professional wraparound services such as psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers. In addition, he said the facility would also recruit, train and develop quality teachers.
These projects have been in the works for years, he said, and he is thrilled they are finally coming to fruition in the new year.
“When you talk about trying to give back to the community, they don’t need to reinvent the wheel because we already have a whole lot of things in the pipe,” said Murphy. “It’s just a really exciting time for economic development, economic empowerment, enhancing education and offering wraparound services for families.”