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What’s in a name? Rethinking ‘South St. Pete’

Waveney Ann Moore

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Bay Vista Park, overlooking Tampa Bay on St. Petersburg's southside. Photo. St. Pete Parks and Recreation

At this time of national upheaval, roiled by race, politics and a pandemic, some of us have become reflective about the causes and lessons that might be learned.

Thousands march, while smaller numbers choose to set up curbside pantries, a modest effort to help fill the stomachs of the nation’s growing hungry. Some are taking action on a global, albeit digital level, expressing searing thoughts through social media, while others shout their opinions with yard signs – a few quite witty — fly flags or launch modern-day armadas on behalf of a preferred presidential candidate.

I’ve been thinking a lot about race lately. About fairness, perception and the people of goodwill scrambling to acknowledge Black faces once unseen and voices often ignored.

It set me thinking about St. Petersburg, a city I grew to appreciate long before its new, multimillion-dollar Pier, fancy downtown restaurants and luxury high-rise condominiums even Tampa might envy. I enjoy neighborhood parks like Bay Vista with its spectacular sunrises that speckle the bay, Maximo and its Old Florida ambience and that best kept secret, Boyd Hill.

If there’s a common theme, it’s intentionally geographic. Each of these scenic parks can be found in a part of town often disparagingly referred to as “the Southside,” or “South St. Pete.” And while most people on my side of town consider it home, a safe, diverse and underrated area south of Central Avenue, it’s no secret that in many quarters “South St. Pete” is pejorative for “black, crime-ridden and poor.”

It’s not uncommon to have a visitor carelessly express surprise when venturing across the dividing line. “What a lovely neighborhood,” they might say, or something similar. “I’ve not been in this part of town before.” Little do they know that they’ve been missing the charming, Disneyesque pocket of Driftwood, Pinellas Point with its pink streets, Bahama Shores, Maximo, Lakewood and other unique neighborhoods.

And while it might seem incongruous, many in the city’s Black community embrace the “South St. Pete” label. It is, after all, home of historic 22nd Street S – the Deuces – where the Manhattan Casino once welcomed world class performers such as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, and once a busy thoroughfare where Black businesses thrived during segregation. It’s also the neighborhood where the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum is striving to make its mark and share stories of Black St. Petersburg and others of the African diaspora.

It must be acknowledged that there are challenges in the area’s poor, Black neighborhoods. But are there no poor, struggling neighborhoods north of Central Avenue, the not-so-secret and embarrassing demarcation for the black and white sides of the city?

Recent mayors have struggled to address inequities in poor southern neighborhoods. Mayor David Fischer created the Challenge zone following the 1996 riots that erupted after a white police officer shot and killed an 18-year-old Black man. The rage and the soul-searching of that time more than two decades ago feel somehow familiar today. Back then, some white faith leaders on the north side of the city sought to make reconciliatory connections with Black congregations. There were other overtures following the violent disturbances that stunned a somnolent and generally self-satisfied city. Then, as they do now, people of conscience wondered how they could have been so blind to the inequities of their fellow citizens.

Mayor Rick Baker would later designate the area he sought to improve as Midtown, a name retained by fellow Republican Bill Foster. Mayor Rick Kriseman, a Democrat, dropped the Midtown name. The South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area came into being in 2015.

In recent days, Kriseman posted a triumphant tweet: “St. Petersburg’s African American poverty rate is down to 16.7%…the lowest level ever recorded.”

It was a quote from a report from One Community, “a comprehensive plan for economic growth for South St. Petersburg.”

“Our combined efforts have worked!” Kriseman added. “Truly encouraging data, but our enthusiasm is tempered by the work we’ll have to do related to this pandemic.”

Indeed, in the face of obvious disparities that plague areas south of Central, there are those who are working to help upgrade housing stock, create business opportunities — a supermarket is one of the dire needs – and jobs that pay a living wage. There’s also focus on ensuring accessible health care and improving education for poor black children trapped in an increasingly segregated and unequal school system.

Sometimes, though, those with the best intentions need to make sure that they’re not perceived as condescending and even a party to reinforcing stereotypical beliefs when they – often outsiders – glibly employ such terms as “South St. Pete” or “the Southside.” Yes, those who live there might use those terms, but that doesn’t mean others should.

These communities south of downtown, bordering Lake Maggiore and off the last exit before the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. are wonderfully diverse in race, ethnicity and income. They have no claim to Stepford sameness, but are a mix of million-dollar waterfront homes, others with golf course views, condominiums, affordable apartments and modest dwellings. Their diversity calls for a Starbucks, a Fresh Market, a Trader Joe’s and not the accepted proliferation of Dollar stores.

Why should an entire swath south of Central Avenue, where a majority of the city’s Black residents live, many side by side white neighbors, be dismissed? Entrenched and unsubstantiated beliefs not only harm all of the people who call this area home, but also stall the development and opportunities taken for granted in other communities.

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12 Comments
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12 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Jon Wilson

    September 25, 2020 at 3:12 pm

    Great to see Waveney Ann’s byline. Hope it’s the first of many more.

  2. Chuck Egerter

    Chuck Egerter

    September 25, 2020 at 3:25 pm

    As a white resident of the Southside for nearly 15 years (Coquina Key), I fully agree and thank you for your perspective. We love our southside and say the words with affection, often followed by “don’t tell anyone about our secret gem down here”. We have neighbors of all races, colors, religions, and political opinions, but we are all in this together. We treat each other with kindness and respect. And love.
    We have some really unique and wonderful restaurants and coffee places including the historic Chattaway and the infamous Munches Diner. Quietly Southside Coffee has become a cool little mainstay. But, we have 2 key plazas (6th st. and 45th Av South, and MLK and 62nd Ave S) that are a mess, they represent fabulous opportunity for a developer with a little guts and money. 🙂

  3. Avatar

    Josette

    September 25, 2020 at 3:32 pm

    As a newer resident of Campbell Park, it is indeed an unrealized gem. A nice mix of homes, quiet, close to downtown and the friendliest neighborhood I’ve every lived. I’m very proud to be from The South Side.

  4. Avatar

    Janan V Talafer

    September 25, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    I totally agree. I love the neighborhoods south of Central and feel that this part of our city has maintained a lovely, quiet small town feel that is part of St. Petersburg’s charm.

  5. Avatar

    Kitty P Rawson

    September 25, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    Thank you, Waveney Ann, for a great story about my favorite part of town! I have lived on the southside for 30 years and loved every minute.

    You hit the nail on the head, though, with your comment about the lack of a real grocery store. I can’t believe that businesses haven’t figured out how to make one work. Not just the two mentioned by Mr Egerter, but also the effort to have a store on 18th Ave S at about 20th St. It seems like doing market research would reveal what neighbors want and make it possible to make money with a store.

  6. Avatar

    Rose Smith Hayes

    September 25, 2020 at 8:47 pm

    Thank you for writing about one of Pinellas county’s treasures, South St Pete. The area is beautiful with a few not so good spots but mostly beautiful.

  7. Avatar

    Roy Peter Clark

    September 26, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    Thank you, Waveney Ann, for your testimony in honor of the South end of the city. The Clarks have lived here since 1977. We loved our friends and neighbors of diverse backgrounds. Rather than this being a “problem,” to us it feels like a blessing. Cheers.

  8. Avatar

    Jim and Ruth Barrens

    September 26, 2020 at 3:42 pm

    Thanks Waveney Ann. You do us “Southsiders” proud!

  9. Avatar

    Stacey

    September 27, 2020 at 7:18 am

    I live in South ST Pete. I just moved from the North Side because owner selling the house. I have kived here a month. During the month I have experienced two different gun shots. Once in my backyard with my dog. 7 shots fired extermly close. Another 5 to 6 shots fired within a mile. I used to live in HErnando county where its legal to shoot guns. I can tell how far they are. In Hernando gun shots are fired during the day. I like the neighborhood but I believe there needs to be something done with with gunshots.

  10. Avatar

    Ralph

    September 27, 2020 at 9:48 am

    B in Black is capitalized but w in while isn’t. Appears to be racist,

  11. Avatar

    Kathy Calcaterra

    September 27, 2020 at 10:45 am

    Great article! We moved to South St Pete from Illinois three years ago and love the diversity! The Lakewood neighborhood has welcomed us and there are many volunteer opportunities for retirees (us) besides being only 20 minutes to beautiful beaches.

  12. Avatar

    Will Michaels

    October 1, 2020 at 9:29 pm

    Nobody knows South St. Pete better than Waveney Ann Moore. The stigma of this half of the city is well-known to those of us who live here. When I first moved here nearly 50 years ago from Washington, D. C. the “Southside” was the last area of the county we were shown by our real estate agent. But it was here we found our dream house in Lakewood facing a golf course fairway. As Waveney Ann says “entrenched and unsubstantiated beliefs” still persist about this part of our city. Only this week new residents to my neighborhood moving from North St. Pete expressed both their pleasure and surprise when they found their own dream home on the Southside. We do have our economic and social challenges and better focused marketing alone will not resolve them. But a coordinated South St. Pete marketing program would be a step in the right direction. We have much to offer in the way of quality living as Waveney Ann so ably recounts. Perhaps neighborhood associations and business interests can come together to accomplish this.
    Will Michaels

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