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Welch talks next steps for the Manhattan Casino

Mark Parker



Mayor Ken Welch speaks during a Sept. 8 press conference at the St. Petersburg Police Department. Screengrab.

City officials, particularly Mayor Ken Welch, are taking a fresh look at St. Petersburg’s Manhattan Casino after the lease expired on yet another failed venture at the historic venue.

The Callaloo Group, in partnership with the Urban Collective, was the latest to assume control of the embattled yet culturally significant facility on 22nd Street South in an area affectionately known as The Deuces. The consortium reopened a food hall inside the 12,000-square-foot building in September 2021 and received a notice of default three months later.

During a city council meeting just before their lease expired Nov. 30, Welch noted that “the restaurant business model” is not working and that he couldn’t justify an extension. The mayor reiterated that belief during a recent interview with the Catalyst.

“We’ve had three unsuccessful restaurant ventures there,” said Welch. “And I want to have a clear vision about what’s the best use of that facility to have the most community impact.”

Welch reiterated that restaurant concepts don’t seem to work in the facility. Photo by Mark Parker.

Welch will have at least six months to ascertain that vision. A Dec. 1 community update provided by the city noted the Manhattan will remain closed until June 2023 for capital improvements. According to the report, city officials will issue bids for the installation of a new HVAC system, elevator repairs and other “necessary work.”

Urban Collective representatives told city leadership at the council meeting that those deficiencies and a leaky roof hindered operations.

With the building now vacant, Welch said the city would prepare a request for proposals (RFP) for a new operator – but “not right away.” He relayed his reluctance to rush into another venture in the Manhattan, once a preferred destination for legendary artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles during the Jim Crow era.

Unlike other city projects and the Tropicana Field site redevelopment, Welch said he doesn’t anticipate including an affordable housing aspect.

“I think the structure needs to stay,” he added. “But what are the other uses for that structure given what’s happening on the rest of the (22nd Street South) corridor?”

The Deuces is undergoing a recent renaissance. Rev. J.C. Pritchett spearheads the Legacy Center development, a two-story social justice hub and conference space. Joe Furst, a Miami-based developer, is working closely with Veatrice Farrell, executive director of Deuces Live, to create connectivity between Central Avenue, the Warehouse Arts District and the Deuces Main Street program.

Welch specifically mentioned the Sankofa project that will open opposite the Manhattan. The multi-use development will encompass 35,000 square feet of commercial space, 24 affordable townhomes and a digital and technology business incubator meant to spur high-wage job creation in the area.

“If you’re going to have an incubator there, you probably don’t need one across the street,” said Welch. “I’m an accountant and a planner, and I want to see it all laid out. How this works and how we can get the most out of our investment.”

The mayor relayed his plan for the local community to help guide his holistic view of the facility’s best uses. He noted 200 people attended November’s “Community Conversation” event and offered their thoughts on how to best utilize the South St. Petersburg icon.

Based on electronic and in-person feedback, James Corbett, city development administrator, compiled a list of recurring themes. Those include affordable event rental space, a vibrant venue for musical performances, offering a restaurant as a compliment but not the destination, and that the city should maintain ownership and provide improvements while partnering with an operator.

Welch said he “definitely” plans to hold more Community Conversation events regarding the Manhattan Casino in the future.

“That’s the way we work,” he added.

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    December 15, 2022at3:25 am

    I would love to see it be restored to a night club like it was originally

  2. Avatar

    Shirley Hayes

    December 16, 2022at7:51 am

    I would love to see musical events there and other social events, meetings, celebrations, etc in the upstairs area.Downstairs should have several small businesses. Downstairs once had a barbershop, beauty salon sharing space, a liquor store, a bar and a fish market. Sno Peak ,across the street, survived because of traffic at the Manhattan Casino building day and night.

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