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‘Take Back the Dome’: Uhuru leader details vision for Tropicana Field

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An aerial view of what the Trop site would look like under the proposal submitted by Sugar Hill Community Partners and JMA Ventures, one of two developers currently in consideration by the City.

St. Petersburg’s plan for the 86-acre Tropicana Field site remains unclear, but Chimurenga Waller’s is not.

Waller, national director of organization for the International Uhuru Movement, a St. Pete-based group fighting for African-American justice, says he knows exactly what the area should be used for if the Tampa Bay Rays leave: Reparations.

Specifically, the local Uhuru chapter’s Reparations Now committee has been campaigning this year to “take back the dome,” which, according to Waller, means turning the Trop site over to a proposed Reparations Land Trust and Development Authority. 

“All the (land trust would do) is redevelop, sell, buy (and) make sure we get the proper kinds of things that the Black community needs in a certain development area,” Waller explained.

Chimurenga Waller

The activist says its proposed land trust authority would be an entity of the city, made up of elected officials committed to social equity. The idea began in 2017, when Uhuru member Eritha “Akilé” Cainion ran for city council on the same platform. 

But this year, as negotiations between the Rays and the City of St. Pete grew more heated and drew more attention, Mayor Rick Kriseman accelerated plans to re-envision the site, narrowing his choice of developers to prepare for when the Rays’ lease expires in 2027.

While the fate of the Rays contract with St. Pete is still unclear, Uhuru members quickly condemned redevelopment proposals, calling Kriseman’s plan the “Tropiscam 2.” Waller says they won’t allow contracted developers to profit from previously Black-owned land again.

The Tropicana Field site was once a Black neighborhood called the Gas Plant District. In the 1980s, after a city council vote, the neighborhood’s 800 residents were given relocation vouchers and the city began transforming the site into the future home of Tampa Bay’s major-league baseball team.

According to an article by Gwendolyn Reese, president of the African American Heritage Association of St​. Petersburg, the city’s original plan for the area included affordable housing and an industrial park promising over 600 jobs. Waller doesn’t believe the city ever intended to complete those plans, and fears the area has reached a similar predicament where developers who promise to pay tribute to the Gas Plant neighborhood will usher in gentrification. 

“It just seems to me that if nobody speaks up, then we’re going to be in trouble again, and find ourselves pushed further and further out of the community that we have lived in for many, many years,” Waller said.

Through their proposals, Uhuru members envision keeping Tropicana Field’s dome where it is, but transforming its interior to house businesses and markets. They also want to extend the proposed land trust past the site itself, so that all surrounding areas can be developed with the Black community in mind. Getting the city to build affordable housing is one of their primary goals.

But the Uhuru Movement has a contentious history in St. Pete, starting in the 1960s, when its founder, Omali Yeshitela, was arrested, convicted and jailed for tearing down a racist mural in City Hall. In the decades since, the group has initiated multiple protests, and prominent members have run for office, including Jesse Nevel of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, who ran for mayor in 2017. 

Kriseman’s office declined to comment for this story.

So far, the “Take Back the Dome” petition has garnered around 200 signatures, and Uhuru members have led and participated in multiple protests to draw attention to their cause. Waller says he remains “optimistic” that they can play a role in the Trop’s future.

 

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    Dr. Basha P. Jordan, Jr

    June 11, 2021at3:41 pm

    If the “Take Back the Dome” proposal is accepted by the city, this would be the greatest accomplishment achieved by the Kriseman administration for the Black community of St. Pete. The “Rays” from this Sunshine would be forever felt by “All” in the city and help to leave a tremendously positive legacy for our Mayor.

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