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Community Voices: What will the City do with Tangerine Plaza?

Wendy Wesley

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Tangerine Plaza today. File photo.

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Last month marked five years since the Walmart Neighborhood Market at Tangerine Plaza shuttered its doors, leaving a large swath of St. Petersburg without a grocer in an area of “low income and low access,” as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Ken Welch, St. Petersburg’s newly elected mayor, pledges focus and intention on finding a solution.

“For too long, residents in this neighborhood have lacked access and proximity to healthy food options,” Welch said. “That is why I am working with city staff to learn more about proposals for Tangerine Plaza established under the previous administration to make informed choices about how best to proceed.”

These USDA-designated areas have more than tripled during the same five-year period. This is evidenced by data from the 2020 US census showing seven current adjacent census tracts compared with two non-adjacent tracts in 2015.

Nutrition insecurity takes a toll on a community through worsening chronic diseases like heart failure and diabetes that are best managed when food is abundant, affordable, healthy and fresh. The effects of chronic diseases are exacerbated on gas station diets.
 
Former mayor Rick Kriseman and current District 6 councilmember Gina Driscoll perfected the fine art of virtue signaling by giving residents a Food Policy Council housed at the Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete, and a proclamation claiming food as a human right.

Each action has good optics attached to it. Neither action puts food in the stomachs of those who need it.

When the Walmart at Tangerine Plaza closed in February of 2017, local activists anticipated the areas of “low income, low access” would increase. We did not expect those areas to TRIPLE. This shows us the profound ripple effects of one grocery store to a community.

Tangerine Plaza is located within the city’s South Community Redevelopment Area, which was created to promote development in housing, neighborhoods and businesses. It comprises 7.4 square miles and is one of the largest in Florida. The plaza sits within a 42-block area of south St. Petersburg with no full-service grocery store. Recently, Habitat for Humanity proposed affordable, multifamily residences across the street.

In March of 2021, the city reported a developer with a grocery store tenant would occupy the space in early 2022 at the latest. Alan Delisle, the city’s former director of economic development, stated that a lease would be executed last May.

Our city has had five years to solve this problem. This is not five years with a stubborn property owner who will not budge, but five years of no movement on a property the city itself owns.

Pre-pandemic data shows that 12.5% of Pinellas households are food insecure, which creates a food budget shortfall of more than $73 million. Imagine what that data will show today.

Here are a few things our citizens, business leaders, elected officials and city staff can do to fix this:

* Reject aspirational change and virtue signaling from our elected officials in the forms of food policy councils and “food is a human right” proclamations that confuse doing something with doing the right thing.

* Demand our elected officials make good on their campaign promises to put a grocery store in Tangerine Plaza.

* Instead of focusing so intently on the rushed redevelopment of Tropicana Field, ask city leadership to pay attention to needy residents directly under its nose. Take the foot off the gas of the Tropicana Field redevelopment and dedicate some bandwidth to the residents of this city who are struggling with chronic disease.

* Support local and citizen-run farmers markets like the Southside Fresh Market and the Deuces Sidewalk Market.

* Hold our new mayor and city council members accountable in their support of the city’s Health in All Policies program. It should continue and be adequately funded especially where SNAP promotion and support of corner stores are concerned.

* Put the Healthy St. Pete focus on SNAP access promotion and health education to areas of “low income, low access.”

Wendy Wesley is a St. Petersburg registered and licensed dietitian in private practice.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Judith

    March 5, 2022at4:09 pm

    Thank you Wendy Wesley for so perfectly articulating a problem that has gone on for too long.

  2. Avatar

    Georgia Earp

    March 5, 2022at5:11 pm

    Yes! Thank you Wendy Wesley. Tropicana Field is an opportunity. We don’t need more luxury apartments and condos. We need affordable housing and access to healthy food choices for everyone.

  3. Avatar

    Barry

    March 5, 2022at6:38 pm

    Thank you Wendy for your reporting. Of special interest is why Walmart and the previous grocery store moved from Tangerine Plaza? Also, why does the city own this property rather than a private owner? Southside and the Dueces markets should have valuable info about
    establishing a grocery store in Tangerine Plaza.Thank you.

  4. Avatar

    rose hayes

    March 5, 2022at11:42 pm

    Knowing why the previous grocery stores left is very important. The store at 9th Avenue South and 22nd Street has also left, why? Can this community support a full time grocery store???There needs to be other more workable solutions. We need critical thinking on this issue after we learn why the other grocery stores left.

  5. Avatar

    Mike Eak

    March 6, 2022at1:35 pm

    What was the reasons Walmart pulled out?
    Oh course for low income to no income theft comes to mind first.

    We’ll how about a new concept of grocery store. With a counter where people can put in orders & even pre-order. The people do not pass the counter and the store provides runners to retrieve the chosen items (like a warehouse store) the pre-orders can be paid in advance too. So that delivery options are available.
    And off to one side a Pharmacy could be added too.
    And once packaging is opened they are not returnable

  6. Avatar

    Susan Paxson

    March 7, 2022at5:23 pm

    I am uncertain about this one but I lived where Walmart closed a Neighborhood Walmart after only being opened for a few months. They closed it and many, many others. It was a company decision. Not necessarily a reflection on this location. The numbers are there for a grocery store, let’s see if the new mayor can make it happen. We need it. AND the Aldi on 34th/30th needs a push to completely renovate like they said they were going to.

  7. Avatar

    Danny White

    March 8, 2022at2:27 pm

    I agree there should be a full service grocer within a reasonable radius of every neighborhood and stocked with foods across multiple price points. Yet that is an idea for a ‘perfect world’ which we all know does not exist. Grocery stores within the so-called ‘Southside’ have historically pulled out of zip codes 33705 and 33712: Publix at 34th St and 22nd Ave S; Publix and Save-a-Lot at Coquina Key Plaza; Kash ‘n Karry/Sweetbay at Tangerine and Skyway Plazas, and Walmart Neighborhood Market at Tangerine Plaza, come immediately to mind. Perhaps knowing what factors caused these reputable grocers to close shop would be very insightful so that we are able to better understand why there is so much difficulty finding new grocers to fill the void. There has to be a common denominator in their decisions to pull out of these zip codes/neighborhoods. I have heard on numerous occasions from reliable sources that shrinkage in all of these stores was out of control, in addition to low sales volumes that, combined, made their presence unsustainable. There remains a Publix in zip 33712, and another Publix in close proximity in 33711 where there is also a Walmart Super Center and an Aldi. They all seem to have robust business! However, notice that they are not located in the stereotyped ‘Southside.’

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