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‘Deuces Rising’ puts Commerce Park development in city’s hands; Carter G. Woodson to relocate to 22nd St.

Megan Holmes

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After years of setbacks and disappointments, the City of St. Petersburg now plans to take matters into its own hands for the troubled south St. Petersburg site known as Commerce Park. Situated across from the historic Manhattan Casino, a staple of the Deuces Live Historic Main Street, the site is proposed to serve as a linchpin for the city’s multi-pronged re-imagination of 22nd Street South, branded “Deuces Rising.”

Mayor Rick Kriseman announced the “Deuces Rising” plan Tuesday afternoon at the Manhattan Casino, overlooking the eastern edge of the empty site on the corner of 22nd St. S and Fairfield Avenue. The plan, funded and led by the city, would include 5.3 acres dedicated to a new 22nd Street relocation of the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, 2.5 acres of workforce housing, retail/office space, a $7.5 million investment in district placemaking and the sale of 5.5 acres of land for market rate development.

“There has been much debate about what happens on this corridor. We have seen passions and frustrations rise because buildings haven’t,” Kriseman said, alluding to the repeated failures to bring development to the ailing corridor, a site that has promised to bring needed jobs and economic development to the once-bustling African American Main Street.

“Today, with the goal of honoring our past as we pursue our future, with enthusiasm for an unprecedented partnership and a re-imagined corridor, we are hitting the reset button on the land formerly known as Commerce Park,” Kriseman said.

“We are no longer burdened by what we inherited, by a federal government requirement to focus on job creation, we are no longer interested in waiting on some in the private sector to find the financial backing or to believe in this land or this community as much as we do. We can now take charge. We can dream and dream big. A dream of a Deuces rising.”

Until the unveiling of Deuces Rising, Kriseman’s administration had seemed committed to leasing the land principally for private commercial development, in order to spur job creation. That was in line with the requirements of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) dollars that were used in the 2000s to acquire the parcels between 22nd and 26th Streets South, 6th Avenue South to I-275.

The city-led approach comes after two developers, Euro Cycles and EMP Industries, struck deals to develop different pieces of the Commerce Park site in 2016. Both developers failed to uphold their end of the bargain, and the projects stalled shortly after breaking ground on the site in October 2018. Nine months later, the city filed a suit to evict Euro Cycles and the rest of the deal fell apart shortly after. Another potential partner/backer, Harborage Land Group, was recently in talks with the City for the site as well, but those talks did not result in a deal.

With no private development deal and no jobs on the horizon, the city has paid $2.2 million back to the federal government, according to Communications Director Ben Kirby, .

Kriseman said the city received an “unsolicited proposal” for the 2.5 acres of workforce housing and retail/commercial space. Titled “A Sankofa Vision for Revitalizing the Deuces,” the proposal suggests that the city and Sankofa Vision Group (SVG) “co-develop a 3-acre site on the assembly known as Commerce Park. In this concept, the City would be lead developer (with chief responsibility and ultimate authority for design, development and financing of the project), and the SVG would act in a support role.”

The proposal was brought forward by a consortium of partners, including the Pinellas County Urban League, One Community/2020 Plan, Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corp., and others. The Deuces Live Historic Main Street is not listed as a partner.

Sankofa development proposal

According to Kriseman, that portion of the site would include 2.5 acres of “workforce-owned” townhomes, as well as commerce and retail facing 22nd St. S. That retail space would be operated by SVG, which would contribute a portion of the profits to a community redevelopment fund.

“When we’ve done RFPs in the past, the community has had ideas but they’ve never had the funding to move forward with those,” Kriseman told the St. Pete Catalyst. “This gives them a source, potentially, of funding. So they can look at other projects in south St. Pete or anywhere in the city for that matter.”

The “Deuces Rising” will also include some private development. Kriseman announced that 5.5 back acres of the property will be sold for market rate development. The funds generated from those sales will serve as the seed money for the community revitalization fund. Kriseman also announced that another request for proposal process for the Tangerine Plaza site, also on 22nd St. S would be released the week of Dec. 15.

Kriseman also announced some welcome news for the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, committing $1 million for a future relocation of the museum to the other half of the former Commerce Park site.

“I love the Woodson Museum, which is one of the reasons why we stepped in to save it several years ago,” Kriseman explained. “But what I love most about the museum is its potential. Our city, this very community and the rich history associated with it is deserving of a proper museum on a well-traveled corridor. So, we have set aside more than five acres for this purpose, and we expect a community-driven capital campaign to compliment our efforts.”

According to Council member Lisa Wheeler Bowman, who represents the district where the Commerce Park site is located, the news of Carter G. Woodson’s relocation is the most meaningful of the day. “This is where it belongs, ” she said. “I used to come here as a little girl. What I believe that this museum is going to do is bring people here to see our history. To know what it was like back in the day before us, and it’s just so important.”

“I’ve had my sights on being on 22nd St. a major corridor and the hustle and bustle and enterprise of African American history here in our community,” said executive director Terri Lipsey Scott. “I can’t be more delighted that my prayers were answered and the mayor heard my plea.

“It speaks volumes not only for the African American community, for the city at large,” said Scott. “This is a museum serving an African American cultural history but it’s a museum for all of us. I think African American museums across the country now are demonstrating that they’re not exclusively for African Americans. The history is rich, we’re part of the American Dream and we are here to stay.”

“We will ensure that the people who have shepherded its vibrancy and been stewards of its history will be the ones who power its future,” said Kriseman. “When that happens, we will make our great city a grand city, we will make the sun shine as brightly as it ever has.”

“Remember this date, Dec. 10, 2019,” he said, “as the day we decided to rise and work together to make the Deuces a cradle of culture once again.”

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