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Nonprofit has a plan, money to transform Tangerine Plaza

Mark Parker

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Positive Impact Ministries hands out fresh food at Tangerine Plaza every Saturday, and will soon submit a proposal to acquire the much-maligned city-owned site. Photos provided.

The city-owned, neglected Tangerine Plaza has remained mostly empty since a Walmart Neighborhood Market vacated the expansive property at 1794 22nd St. S. in 2017. The area is known for a lack of fresh food, housing and retail options, though upcoming developments will aid the latter aspect.

Tangerine Plaza still bustles every Saturday morning as cars snake around its parking lot to receive groceries from Positive Impact Ministries (PIM). Co-founder Karalynne Brubaker told the Catalyst that the St. Petersburg-based nonprofit now has a plan – and the money – to transform the deteriorating site into a community amenity.

“What if we provided a cost-free market where people could come in with dignity,” Brubaker said. “They could bring their children, and the children would not even know the difference between it and a Publix grocery store or another supermarket.”

Over 400 volunteers and several corporate partners have contributed to Positive Impact’s success over the past two decades.

Publix, Sam’s Club and Aldi are among the nonprofit’s corporate partners who allow hundreds of volunteers to serve between 600 and 700 families from the site weekly.

Brubaker founded PIM in 2003 with her husband, Jay, a retired St. Petersburg Police officer.

She said the faith-based nonprofit is debt-free and has never applied for a grant or hosted a fundraising campaign. PIM also owns multiple refrigerated trucks and local properties.

Brubaker will submit a new proposal to acquire the plaza next week. While she declined to announce her offer publicly, she said PIM “has several million dollars … that will sustain us.”

“If the city wants us to buy it, we have the money to pay cash for it,” Brubaker added. “We don’t have to go after a loan. We’ve never asked the city for one dime.”

Mayor Ken Welch’s administration has worked to accommodate the Sugar Hill Group’s site proposal for the past two years. The development team plans to demolish the 40,000-square-foot space and construct two buildings with 155 affordable housing units and a small retail component.

In 2022, the total project cost was $37.3 million. Sugar Hill’s estimates included $12.7 million in state and city subsidies. The developers must allocate 10,000 square feet to a grocer.

In January, administrators told an increasingly impatient city council that Sugar Hill would pay $100,000 annually under a new lease-to-own agreement. The local group could exercise a $1.5 million purchase option once it secures a grocer and meets other conditions.

“If they don’t have a grocer identified by now, it’s not going to happen,” said Councilmember Gina Driscoll at the Jan. 25 meeting.

Brubaker noted that PIM has over 20 years of experience feeding the hungry.

She said the nonprofit could also build housing if that is an administrative prerequisite. “We’ve got the money to pay cash for it today,” she reiterated. “They (the city) want to make a deal – let’s do it.”

Developer Robert Blackmon, a former city council member and mayoral candidate, submitted a $1.62 million all-cash proposal in August 2023. Like Baker, he believes the city has spent too much time waiting for Sugar Hill to get its finances in order when the priority should be providing a grocer.

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco County is building 44 affordable townhomes across the street from Tangerine Plaza. CEO Mike Sutton wrote a letter supporting Blackmon’s proposal.

Brubaker said she was “not at all” interested in partnering with Blackmon, as he intends to sell the groceries. “If people can’t afford the food, they’re going to buy lesser quality,” Brubaker explained.

“Why can’t we (PIM) put on their plates fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, eggs, and meat, and we can do that at a no-cost grocery store.”

Karalynne and Jay Brubaker hope to move an overabundance of food they provide in a drive-through lane into the vacant supermarket.

She said a PIM board member has owned a retail plaza for 20 years. An Ohio-based neighborhood market has also offered its expertise.

PIM would build a commercial kitchen and entrepreneurial program with Pinellas Technical College. The nonprofit would also provide wraparound social services and hot meals.

Brubaker said she has secured tenants for every storefront in the plaza. The proposal also includes a banquet hall.

Brubaker said PIM already has the necessary clientele, as 700 families start securing spots in the food giveaway line two hours early – regardless of the weather. “We intend to build our city strong, and Midtown needs us,” she added.

Like Sugar Hill, PIM attempted to acquire the plaza in 2020 and 2022. However, she said the nonprofit has strengthened its partnerships, finances and proposal over the past two years.

“If they (city officials) turn this down, there is something wrong,” Brubaker said. “You can build housing anywhere. You cannot build a plaza that the city needs in the Midtown area anywhere. So why would you tear it down?”

Tangerine Plaza only bustles on Saturdays. Image: Google.

 

 

 

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Steven Brady

    March 18, 2024at5:33 pm

    “The area is known for a lack of fresh food, housing and retail options, though upcoming developments will aid the latter aspect.”

    About the fresh food and retail claims…

    A Google map search easily disproves this claim.

    The address given was about 1 mile from Highway 19 where there are plenty of stores and grocery stores and fresh food.

  2. Avatar

    KanetaJones

    March 17, 2024at9:28 pm

    I wanted to take a moment to express my heartfelt support for the incredible work that Positive Impact Ministry does within our community. Your commitment to providing fresh food and vegetables every Saturday to those in need is truly inspiring.

    I recently had the privilege of volunteering with your organization twice, and I was deeply impressed by the level of organization and dedication demonstrated by your team. It was evident that every aspect of your operation is carefully thought out and executed with compassion.

    I was particularly moved by your initiative to acquire the empty plaza in our low-income area. Your vision to transform this space into a hub for community support and engagement speaks volumes about your commitment to serving others. I firmly believe that having a permanent location would allow Positive Impact Ministry to expand its services and reach even more individuals in need.

    I wholeheartedly support your efforts to secure the plaza and would be honored to assist in any way possible. Your presence in our community is invaluable, and I have no doubt that your continued efforts will bring about positive change for years to come.

    Thank you for all that you do to make a difference in the lives of those around us. You are truly making the world a better place, one act of kindness at a time.

    With gratitude and admiration,

    Kaneta

  3. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    March 17, 2024at7:30 pm

    This is a wonderful idea. I am very familiar with Positive Impact Ministries. The owners are wonderful people and a plus for our community. They can contact Habitat for Humanity for the Affordable Housing. This is a Win/Win for this community.

  4. Avatar

    Alfred Wendler

    March 16, 2024at9:17 pm

    Walmart has indicated in the past that they would terminate the lease. The City needs their rent money to pay for the property until it’s time to move on. Taxes. Insurance. Maintenance. All get paid for by Walmart’s rent. So Tangerine has never been a negative impact to the general fund unlike a lot of other City projects.

    When the time is right Walmart will relinquish their leasehold interest. In the mean time it’s a good thing they continue to pay.

    And unlike every other group who has contacted the City to do something with the center PIM benefits the community and doesn’t need any grant money. Plus they have a track record of success to point at. Which is in short supply in all the decisions true current administration is making.

  5. Avatar

    Hal Freedman

    March 16, 2024at8:36 pm

    If Sam’s Club is a corporate partner of PIM, I would expect Walmart, who owns Sam’s Club, would be willing to give up its lease as part of the deal. If there is nothing at issue with PIM, this sounds like a wonderful way to develop that property and provide a service to the community.

  6. Avatar

    Danny E White

    March 16, 2024at5:13 pm

    I’ve never heard of Positive Impact Ministries. Now that I have, I really admire their tenacity, purpose, and scope. They are thinking beyond the rote, essentially impersonal act of handing out free groceries to people who get in a drive-up queue: they have a vision that has the potential to bring DIGNITY to being a human being in need. The psychological impact of kids being able to walk into a grocery store and shop with their parent/guardian as if they were in an at-cost grocer is an appealing concept. #racewithoutism

  7. Scott Wagman

    Scott Wagman

    March 16, 2024at3:54 pm

    It’s good that there are a few people coming forward with new ideas for Tangerine Plaza.
    As for the need for speed in deciding what route to take, nothing can happen until Walmart’s lease expires or the City buys it out.
    Now is the time to thoroughly vet the players who want to ultimately take ownership of the plaza at a below market price. When the lease is gone, then it is get real time.
    It’s imperative that this not become another Manhattan Casino fiasco.

  8. Avatar

    Steve Sullivan

    March 16, 2024at10:23 am

    Bravo, you will find out who on the council is really for the people or the developers. It’s a win, win. It’s a perfectly good building with the grocery space already configured due to it being a former grocery store

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