For The Deuces Live and many other stakeholders, St. Petersburg’s historic 22nd Street South corridor represents “the art and soul of St. Pete.”
Latorra Bowles plans to help usher the organization, and the area, into a new era. The Deuces Live’s board of directors recently selected Bowles as the nonprofit’s new executive director.
The St. Petersburg native, a mother of two, brings 18 years of human resources and operations management experience to her new role. She called the appointment “profound.”
“I was born and raised here in St. Pete,” Bowles said. “I know the area. I know the neighborhood, and I’ve seen all the changes. So, to be a part of the future is so exciting to me.”
The Deuces encompasses the culturally significant area around 22nd Street and 9th Avenue South. During segregation, the corridor was a vibrant hub of Black businesses, entertainment and homes.
B.B. King, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong are just a few iconic musicians who performed in the area. African-American baseball stars stayed with prominent residents during Spring Training.
However, many people and businesses left after desegregation. Interstate 275 bifurcated the neighborhood, and several other issues contributed to blight and crime.
The Deuces Live was formed in 1962 to help make the corridor a better place to live, work and raise a family. Bowles believes the organization is undergoing a “rebirth.”
“I want to bring new businesses, affordable housing … ,” she added. “I want people to think of the Deuces like you feel welcome, you feel at home, it’s a great neighborhood and it’s so revitalizing to be there.”
Despite some persisting challenges, the Deuces are undergoing a renaissance. Bowles’ predecessor, Veatrice Farrell, discussed approximately a dozen ongoing projects in the area during a February presentation at the former Chief’s Creole Café.
While Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy still own that historic building, The Catalyst on the Deuces now occupies the space. The Brayboys want a new generation to continue the corridor’s transformation, and Bowles’ first official event as executive director was Oct. 2 at The Catalyst.
Planning for transit-oriented development (TOD) zoning changes around a nearby SunRunner station is underway. The city-owned Historic Manhattan Casino is undergoing repairs and will likely become a community event space.
The long-awaited Sankofa on the Deuces development will provide much-needed housing – if it can clear funding hurdles.”I sat down with a lot of city officials to kind of make sure we are moving in the right direction,” Bowles said
“We’ve been calling it a clean slate. I’m coming in as a fresh pair of eyes.”
Bowles wants to ensure the surrounding community – particularly the youth – has the resources necessary to thrive. She said over 150 businesses once operated in the corridor and hopes to see the area return to its entrepreneurial roots.
Bowles plans to promote monthly events and holiday celebrations. She also stressed the importance of residents knowing they have community leadership. “They feel like their voices aren’t heard,” Bowles added.
She noted that the area now has its much-anticipated Deuces Corner Park, with a small pavilion and bandshell, across from the Deuces Live office. Bowles hopes to add benches, street lighting and other minor amenities that promote usage.
She said enhancing the park and ensuring it is a safe haven for children is an organizational focus. Bowles also wants to see aesthetic enhancements extend throughout the corridor.
“You know how when you go down Central (Avenue) and you have your flags and holiday stuff, thing of that nature, I want a lot of that to come down to the Deuces,” she said. “So, when you’re driving by, you see our beautiful murals, beautiful decorations and you’re like, ‘Wow, what is this?’”
The Historic Gas Plant District’s redevelopment will provide 600 offsite affordable housing units. Bowles noted that the Gas Plant and Deuces are culturally intertwined, and she is eager for a seat at that table.
Bowles said she is already working “to see if there is anything we can partner with or collaborate on. Like, ‘Hey, we have space on the corridor. Please. We welcome it.’”
Bowles wants the community to know she understands their hopes and concerns. She asked for patience during the transition while also pledging that the Deuces would start to feel “more like home” in six months.
“I am a go-getter, and I will do anything I put my mind to,” Bowles added. “I am an only child, so I don’t take no for an answer. I will … rub the right shoulders and elbows to make sure we get those ‘yesses’ on the Deuces.”