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Long-awaited South St. Pete plaza plans still evolving

Mark Parker

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The area around Tangerine Plaza is known for a lack of healthy food options. The city-owned site has remained mostly vacant since 2017. Image: Google.

While interest in St. Petersburg’s derelict Tangerine Plaza has recently soared, city officials will continue working to facilitate an agreement with the Sugar Hill Group.

The development team submitted its latest – and continuously evolving – proposal in June 2022. City council members requested a thorough project update with a current land valuation in January.

In the two months since, local development firm Stoneweg US and nonprofit Positive Impact Ministries have submitted all-cash proposals for the city-owned site in an area known for a lack of fresh food, retail and housing options. Former city councilman and mayoral candidate Robert Blackmon submitted his offer in August 2023.

However, Mayor Ken Welch told city council members at a committee meeting Thursday morning that he has directed administrators to continue working with Sugar Hill without considering the other proposals. “We are facing multiple priorities that we’re trying to address, including housing, food access and minority economic inclusion,” he said.

“And while all the proposals will address some of those community needs, I strongly believe the Sugar Hill proposal – when completed – can address all of these priorities,” Welch added. “I share the council’s desire for tangible progress moving forward on this project.”

From right: Mayor Ken Welch, City Council Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders, City Councilmember Gina Driscoll and Christian Hardigree, regional chancellor of USF St. Petersburg, at a recent St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership event. Photo: Maria Flanagan.

His attendance at the Economic and Workforce Development Committee meeting was atypical. Sen. Darryl Rouson, who worked to acquire the once crime-riddled property at 1794 22nd St. S., joined the mayor and endorsed Sugar Hill’s proposal.

The development team plans to demolish the plaza and build 115 affordable residential units. The proposed area median income limits vary from 30% to 120%, or between $30,000 and $93,960 annually for a family of four.

James Corbett, city development administrator, later clarified that the average AMI limit would equate to 80% – $69,500 for a four-person household. Many agreement details remain unclear due to state financing issues.

As it stands, Sugar Hill would pay $100,000 annually for 75 years or purchase the property for $1.5 million once construction is complete. An independent firm valued the land at $1.84 million, excluding demolition costs.

“It is common for us to either reduce or give away property to meet the needs of affordable and workforce housing,” Corbett said. “In this instance, they’re paying close to the appraised value …”

Blackmon offered $1.62 million and pledged to reactivate the plaza as a grocery store-anchored retail center. He also signaled that he would consider increasing that amount. The proposal does not include housing.

Positive Impact, which has has provided fresh food from the plaza since 2020, offered $1.75 million. The nonprofit would transform the 40,000-square-foot retail space – vacant since a Walmart Neighborhood Market left in 2017 – into a cost-free market.

Positive Impact’s proposal, submitted by former Mayor Bill Foster, does not include housing. Co-founder Karalynne Brubaker previously told the Catalyst that the city “could build housing anywhere.”

“You cannot build a plaza that the city needs in the Midtown area anywhere,” she added. “So, why would you tear it down?”

Karalynne Brubaker (right), co-founder of Positive Impact Ministries, speaks with City Administrator Rob Gerdes at a recent City Hall on Tour event. Photo by Mark Parker.

Like Sugar Hill, Stoneweg would demolish the plaza and build housing. Stoneweg offered $1.5 million to create a mixed-use development with up to 120 affordable units for those earning between 30% and 80% of AMI.

Councilmember Ed Montanari noted Thursday morning that he recently discussed the new offers with city administrators. “Given the fact that the city has been negotiating with the Sugar Hill Group, it would not be a good policy decision for us at the last minute … to all of a sudden stop what we’re doing and shift and start looking at other proposals,” he said.

The full city council will eventually approve or disapprove Sugar Hill’s offer before formally considering the new proposals. Councilmember Gina Driscoll said that was a challenge due to longstanding concerns with the much-delayed plan.

“It’s hard for me to get on board with something that might take seven more years before we even see something real happening,” she said. “And we’re seeing – even in a different neighborhood with different circumstances, in Coquina Key Plaza – that Stoneweg has had some challenges securing a grocer.”

In its proposal, Stoneweg acknowledged that “securing a viable, operating grocery is unlikely” and a “potential barrier.” Sugar Hill must dedicate at least 10,000 square feet of retail space to a grocer with 10 years of experience.

“We know that there are many ways to make sure that people have access to healthy food, and it’s not always that traditional grocery store,” Driscoll said. “So, I’d like to see that be more flexible.”

Corbett agreed and will incorporate that flexibility into the agreement. He also said Positive Impact could continue providing food for hundreds of families from the plaza until Sugar Hill satisfies the city’s terms.

“There’s another conversation that should be had about the role that we play in supporting those services once the site, potentially, is developed with another opportunity,” said Councilmember Brandi Gabbard. “I don’t want that to end.”

After extensive discussions, the committee did not recommend advancing Sugar Hill’s proposal. Montanari and Driscoll dissented in a 2-2 vote. However, the mayoral administration can still present the plans to the full city council for final approval.

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    monah

    March 30, 2024at11:07 am

    Bad, bad decision to go with the sugar hill plan. Neighborhoods need grocers and shopping amenities to be family-friendly. I hope the city council will nip this huge and costly mistake in the bud.

  2. Avatar

    Alfred Wendler

    March 29, 2024at6:59 am

    How many revisions to a plan can a group make before Administration loses faith in the group’s ability to perform?

    When I performed a comparative analysis of all the submissions the City received in response to the initial RFP for Tangerine Plaza years ago, my two comments were none were appealing but whatever the City does do not go with Sugar Hill as their proposal relied 100% on funding from multiple unsecured sources but none of their own. So the Kriseman administration naturally chose the worst proposal then years went by with no action even with multiple revisions to the original proposal.

    Now two years into the current administration Sugar Hill continues to sell the stale pitch that this time their plan will work. Just give them one more revisions to the plan. They promise.

    In the mean time one of the current respondents, Positive Impact Ministries, has spent the past four years delivering on their promise of action. But for some reason their offer is being ignored. They have the money. They have delivered on their promises. The only logical conclusion a rational person would make is they unfortunately are “not from the neighborhood”, a comment I heard frequently, which is code for they don’t fit the racial requirements for consideration.

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