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Manhattan Casino will likely become city-run event space

Mark Parker

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James Corbett, city development administrator, said St. Petersburg officials "would likely" retain control of historic Manhattan Casino. Photo by Mark Parker.

St. Petersburg administrators have shed some light on several long-awaited projects on city-owned properties, including the Manhattan Casino, Sankofa on the Deuces and the 800 Block site downtown.

Thursday morning’s presentation to city council members comprising the Public Services and Infrastructure Committee centered on eight City Sites – formally known as the Grow Smarter initiative. Brian Caper, economic development director, said its name would change again as part of a tentatively titled We Are St. Pete Alliance formed in partnership with the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

Council Chair Brandi Gabbard noted that the embattled Manhattan Casino was not part of the presentation, and she believes including it in the City Sites could hasten its redevelopment. James Corbett, city development administrator, said his team is still working to replace the site’s HVAC system.

“We’ve (the mayoral administration) been talking internally about the future use of the Manhattan, but our plan would likely be to operate that as a city-run event space on both levels,” Corbett said. “As opposed to going back out to a third-party operator.”

The Callaloo Group, in partnership with the Urban Collective, was the latest to assume control of the culturally iconic venue on 22nd Street South, known as the Deuces. The consortium opened a food hall and an event space inside the 12,000-square-foot facility in December 2021.

The group received a default notice three months later. Mayor Ken Welch and his administration began taking a fresh look at the Manhattan when the lease expired in November 2022.

In a December 2022 interview, Welch said he was reluctant to rush into another venture at the facility. The Casino, once a preferred destination for legendary musicians like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong during the city’s Jim Crow era, has remained closed for repairs ever since.

Councilmember Ed Montanari asked Corbett for some clarification on Thursday’s update. Corbett confirmed that both floors would offer event space for weddings and private functions and that city officials could rent those areas separately.

“Speaking to the previous operators, this was the most profitable use,” he added. “But also, the use that the community was most concerned with. They wanted to make sure there was good, affordable event space in that area.”

Montanari expressed his desire for additional discussions regarding the Manhattan Casino’s future, and Corbett said administrators have yet to make a final decision.

An aerial sketch of the Sankofa on the Deuces project development at 22nd Street South. Images: City of St. Petersburg.

Sankofa on the Deuces

The Manhattan Casino is not the only embattled project on the Deuces. Just across the street sits a vacant city-owned lot designated for 24 affordable townhomes and dual two-story commercial buildings with small business incubator space.

The city council approved a 10-year lease agreement with the Sankofa Vision Group in October 2021. While soil contamination concerns arose in February, City Administrator Rob Gerdes said the most significant hurdle is proposed housing costs.

“The prices that we’ve seen so far in the residential component are just, frankly, unacceptable,” Gerdes said.

The Sankofa project’s affordable ownership opportunities take precedence over its commercial aspects, and Gerdes expressed his disappointment in the process. He said city officials have “done a tremendous amount of work” and believes the development could help revitalize the Deuces.

“I’m ready to go; we’re ready to go,” Gerdes added. “I just don’t have a price that I can bring to you with a straight face and ask you to approve to build it. If I get a guaranteed maximum price that makes sense, it’ll be in front of you pretty quickly … but the market is just killing us.”

Gerdes said he expects an updated guaranteed maximum price Aug. 15. If that is not reasonable, he will look at other alternatives.

In addition to postponement, that includes “moving in a different direction.”

The Woodson African American Museum of Florida is less than a quarter mile south of the site. Gerdes noted that the institution is part of the Tampa Bay Rays/Hines plans to redevelop the Historic Gas Plant District, which would create an additional city-owned property nearby.

“If the thought process is maybe we need more density, or maybe we should look at something different on that (Sankofa) site, that could potentially be a place where we did look at that as well.”

Other City Sites:

  • The 800 Block: Caper said administrators would decide on the 4.59-acre downtown site’s future following negotiations on the neighboring Gas Plant redevelopment. While Welch rejected Moffitt Cancer Center’s initial proposal, Corbett said, “We’re certainly working towards” a new agreement.
  • Tangerine Plaza: Negotiations with Sugar Hill Group are ongoing. Administrators have identified potential funding for the project and continue prioritizing a grocer component. Corbett said he plans to bring a lease before the council by the end of the year.
  • The Science Center: While not on the list, Councilmember Gina Driscoll asked for an update on the city-owned property. Caper said administrators sent the St. Petersburg Group, which owns the Catalyst, a $1.6 million contract Wednesday to buy the facility. The organization now has a 60-day due diligence period.
  • Port St. Petersburg: Caper said city officials are exploring funding options for Hub 2, a sister facility for the Maritime and Defense Technology Hub adjacent to the current city-owned building.

 

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Michael Moore

    September 20, 2023at1:10 pm

    It’s so much potential on the Deuces and they just do not want to have funding, but let that be Central Avenue area it’s funding and these projects would’ve been signed, sealed and delivered. SMH

  2. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    August 10, 2023at6:03 pm

    I guess it’s a lot easier to kill a project than to get it done.

  3. Avatar

    David Johnson

    August 10, 2023at4:39 pm

    Disappointing to see the momentum slowing on these necessary projects to revitalize an underserved area of St Pete.

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