There’s a buzz around Lealman.
The unincorporated area of central Pinellas County has a population of approximately 34,000 people, lots of greenspace – and countless honeybees. Since anyone can remember, there have been numerous private honey-supplying apiaries within the 5.7 square-mile community.
That’s reason enough for a newly-formed advisory committee to title an upcoming event – Feb. 18 in Raymond H. Neri Community Park – the Honey & Art Festival.
It’s all part of the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners’ Lealman Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), which identified nine objectives for “improving the quality of life for all Lealman residents.”
“All of the pieces are really coming together,” said Assistant County Administrator Tom Almonte, who’s on the “Branding, Marketing and Promotion” committee. Partial funds for the February festival, as well as a holiday-season event and a fireworks show on the Fourth of July, came from the county. But, he explained, area businesses have eagerly stepped up to become eager co-sponsors.
“The reality is, the community at large has been watching what the county is doing,” said Almonte. “So for them, it was easy to say ‘we want to partner with the county, because this is an important moment in the journey that Lealman is taking to become a very vibrant community.’ They want to be part of that.”
Other members of the advisory committee are Pinellas Police Athletic League executive director Neil Brickfield, Steve Cleveland and Zelda O’Connell from the Florida Dream Center, Laura Simkanich from the Lealman Community Association, Lealman Fire Chief Richard Graham, Amber Lo from Memorial Park Cemetery, Brittany Maxwell from Exquisite Events and the St. Petersburg Foundation’s Amy Cianci.
The St. Petersburg Foundation (SPF) is the philanthropic arm of the St. Petersburg Group (SPG), which owns the St. Pete Catalyst. In March, the Foundation assumed management of the Lealman Exchange, a 77,000 square-foot administration and activities building adjacent to Raymond H. Neri Park.
“Events build a community,” Brickfield said. “We are a community in Lealman that doesn’t have a lot of events, and it falls on some of us to say why? And if we want it to improve, we have to take action.
“I’m proud to be part of this committee, and I’m excited to see the joy on Lealman residents’ faces as they take part in these activities.”
Lealman is considered an “underserved” community, and the CRA, which includes an agreement with Habitat For Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties to help with revitalization by building at least 10 new homes per year, is intended to serve it.
To address blight in Lealman – as described in the initial CRA report – a program is in progress to “clean and clear” the 176 alleys in the community, according to Almonte.
“The idea is to make an intentional investment every year, and begin changing areas that need an investment,” he said. “But we also know that that is only half of any community. The other half is coming together and celebrating who we are as a community.”
The five-acre Neri Park, where the festival will take place, is adjacent to the main channel of Joe’s Creek, the Pinellas watershed that’s currently undergoing a massive restoration and re-imagining via structural engineering, additional greenspace and a pedestrian trail.
A real Christmas tree will be placed in Lealman Park for the December tree-lighting, and Lealman’s first-ever fireworks will blast off next July.
“It’s real exciting for me,” Almonte said. “The other work is work we need to do, but this is the kind of thing the entire community can participate in.
“Let’s not only celebrate the community together, but allow other people, from outside of it, to come and see what Lealman has to offer. It’s growing, and it’s becoming a vibrant community. This is the beginning.”