St. Petersburg’s Tangerine Plaza has mostly remained empty since a Walmart Neighborhood Market vacated the city-owned site – in a federally designated food desert – in 2017.
Several city officials have expressed frustration over the derelict strip mall’s ongoing redevelopment process. They now have a new offer to consider, one that doesn’t require financing, subsidies or a complete rebuild.
Developer Robert Blackmon, a former city council member and mayoral candidate, submitted an all-cash proposal Aug. 11 to purchase the property at 1794 22nd St. S. for $1.62 million. However, those plans would also eschew a significant affordable housing component and focus on retail options.
“Currently, the administration is working with a group on a potential agreement that I understand will be coming to city council fairly soon,” said Councilmember Gina Driscoll. “I’m hopeful that will work out. But at the same time, Mr. Blackmon has presented a very intriguing offer.”
Other local leaders share that sentiment. Mike Sutton, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties, offered his thoughts on the project to city officials in an emailed letter obtained by the Catalyst.
Administrators and council members recently approved a development agreement with Habitat for the Pelican Place townhome project. It will provide 44 affordable homeownership opportunities at 2100 18th Ave. S., directly across the street from Tangerine Plaza.
In his letter, Sutton wrote that the organization is “excited” to learn more about Blackmon’s proposal “and how it could greatly benefit the community.” He noted the site’s history as a shopping and community gathering hub and believes it still holds “immense potential for revival.”
“Picture a revitalized Tangerine Plaza where residents from our development can easily access essential services, such as a grocery store, dine and socialize,” Sutton wrote. “In turn, the plaza would benefit from our community members’ renewed energy and patronage.”
The letter does not mention the Sugar Hill Group, which first sought to acquire the property in 2020. Those negotiations fell through, and the development team submitted an unsolicited proposal in May 2022.
Sugar Hill seeks a 75-year, $1.5 million lease, which equates to $20,000 annually. The group plans to demolish the 40,000-square-foot space and construct two buildings with 115 affordable housing units.
They would also build a smaller retail center that would likely feature an independent grocer, a continued focus for city officials. However, funding – and time – remain issues.
“I’ve expressed my frustration multiple times over the years about how long this process has taken with Tangerine Plaza,” Driscoll said. “And then we get this one in (Blackmon’s), and it’s kind of an 11th-hour play. But … it’s a very different kind of offer. And being able to have that money in hand to reinvest in the community in other ways is a compelling idea.
“And it’s one that I don’t think we should take lightly.”
In an interview Wednesday, Sutton expressed his anticipation to see what the future holds for the plaza. He said Blackmon shared his intention to bring a grocery store to the area, and Sutton appreciates the former city councilmember’s enthusiasm to revitalize the site.
He also noted that 44 Habitat families would soon need food and retail options. While that is a focus, Sutton and Driscoll realize the area needs more affordable housing.
Regardless of who redevelops the plaza, Sutton wants it to complement “what we’re doing across the street.”
“We’re open to collaborate and partner with whatever takes form on that property,” he added. “I think all options need to be weighed to figure out what’s the best use for that property – and what’s going to most benefit the community and residents.”
While Sutton said he and his organization are familiar with multiple Sugar Hill Group members, no one has formally reached out to discuss their respective projects. There is still time, as he expects construction on Pelican Place to commence by September 2025.
Sutton credited the mayoral administration for their support and believes “Habitat has a good track record of meeting deadlines.” Driscoll called Pelican Place “a game-changer for the neighborhood.”
She also expects city administrators to include “a timeline with certain deliverables” when they present a development agreement with Sugar Hill. Driscoll said those checkpoints would ensure the project continues moving forward.
She believes administrators are taking Blackmon’s offer seriously. However, Driscoll noted they have negotiated with Sugar Hill for years and said it is “pretty late in the game.”
The city council will vote on the upcoming agreement. Driscoll explained that disapproval would not require administrators to present Blackmon’s proposal, and they “could choose to do nothing.
“But I think they understand that this property has been vacant for far too long,” Driscoll said. “And it’s in a neighborhood that really needs the resources. Whether it’s housing or having a solid slate of retail options and services that are right in their neighborhood … it’s time for progress.”