The culturally significant Deuces Corridor once faced perception issues that hindered redevelopment, and stakeholders in Midtown St. Petersburg must now overcome zoning challenges and lengthy processes.
Regardless of the setbacks and delays, community leaders along 22nd Street South have persevered. Veatrice Farrell, executive director of Deuces Live, and Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy, owners of Chief’s Creole Café and several other historic buildings along the corridor, relayed how that determination is paying off at a Preserve the ‘Burg event Thursday night.
The Brayboys, who fell in love while growing up in Midtown during St. Petersburg’s segregation era, hosted “An Evening in the Deuces” at their café, in a building dating from 1939. While much of the corridor was boarded up and vacant when the couple bought the property in 2013, Elihu noted it was safe.
He relayed how the area’s perception scared away several lenders, business owners and consultants, who believed that the “Black community won’t support you” and that “white people are not coming down 22nd Street, ever.” The Brayboys have since proved the naysayers wrong through hard work and determination.
They have bought and restored several more properties along the Deuces and announced plans for a uniquely affordable housing project. Despite their well-earned success, and to Elihu’s dismay, Carolyn still runs into the street to pick up discarded litter.
“It’s about making something better,” Carolyn said. “We can all make a contribution. It doesn’t have to be grand and grandiose – sometimes it’s just picking up trash.”
The Brayboys, Farrell and several other community leaders of all races are leading the Deuces renaissance. While the interstate bifurcated neighborhoods, the corridor is ripe for redevelopment.
Farrell relayed about a dozen ongoing projects in the area, avenue by avenue and with no notes.
She explained how Miami developer Joe Furst plans to transform seven acres of industrially zoned property into a mixed-use development. Farrell said the required zoning changes received initial approval and that process should conclude in the next six months.
The Brayboys would like to build affordable housing on a vacant lot between Lorene’s Fish House and the historic Royal Theatre, now home to a Boys and Girls Club. However, current zoning prohibits structures over three stories.
They passed around a rendering of the potential facility, which would provide homes for people making up to $15 an hour and cannot afford to live elsewhere. Elihu said he would cap the units at 500 square feet to keep rent affordable for those without options.
He said a neighborhood appraisal reported the average household income for a family of four is $35,000. “So, Mr. B. (Brayboy) is making a mark in the ground, and he’s going to stop the gentrification,” Elihu added.
Brayboy said he plans to create additional housing developments for families making $35,000 annually after that is complete. He expressed his hope that city officials will double the density allowance to six stories to make the project financially feasible. Local officials changing the zoning for Furst’s development to the north but not the entire corridor, said Brayboy, “has a racial overtone.”
“But there’s no quit in us,” Brayboy said. “Because we feel that this is our calling.”
New development requires new infrastructure, and city workers are installing much-needed water and sewer lines along the corridor. Deuces Live and the Warehouse Arts District Association have spearheaded that project since 2018.
Farrell noted the corridor now has a SunRunner stop, and Charlie Guy, president of the Southside Greenway and co-chair of the Deuces Transportation Committee, is working with Rails to Trails and Pinellas Trail officials to increase multimodal options.
The area surrounding 22nd Street and 9th Avenue South was a vibrant hub of Black businesses, entertainment and homes during the Jim Crow era. Today, people can still find the Woodson African American Museum of Florida, the starting point for the African American Heritage Trail, the Historic Manhattan Casino (now undergoing much-needed repairs), Lorene’s Fish House and the Urban Drinkery Wine Bar.
Farrell and other community leaders have successfully designated land across from the Creole Café as a city park. The site will now be known as the Deuces Corner Park, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its small pavilion and bandshell will take place Feb. 18 as part of the Collard Green Festival – which highlights the area and the people who make it special.
“When you look at preserving a neighborhood, it’s a long-term project,” Farrell said. “And you have to have dedication.”
She told attendees how the Sankofa on the Deuces development, and its 26 townhomes, will open soon at the corner of 7th Ave. “I tell them that their toilets will be able to flush, so they should thank us,” Farrell added.
The development sits across from the Manhattan Casino, once a preferred venue for musical legends like Etta James, Louis Armstrong and B.B. King. Farrell noted that a long-awaited new location for the Woodson Museum was planned for that intersection but has since moved to the Tropicana Field/Historic Gas Plant District following Mayor Ken Welch’s selection of the Tampa Bay Rays/Hines redevelopment team.
“They are going to donate $10 million for them (museum officials) to complete that project,” said Farrell. “So, the likelihood that they will raise the money to complete that project has gone up 90%.”
Adjacent to the current location’s legacy garden is the under-construction Jordan Park Senior Village. She expects relocated residents to move back in by the fall.
She relayed how the Mt. Zion Church is building a school, another park is emerging from vacant land in front of the Morean Center for Clay and a nonprofit organization is building a 27-unit affordable housing complex on 23rd Avenue South, one block from 22nd Street.
“So, over the next three to five years, there will be a significant amount of construction on the Deuces Corridor,” Farrell said. “And what is so exciting is that they’re all community-based organizations.”
For more information on Deuces Live, visit the website here.