What’s in the future for the historic Manhattan Casino?
The mayor’s office invited members of the public to weigh in Tuesday night on the future of the Manhattan Casino, the 12,000 square-foot facility that served as a social center and dance hall for the Deuces neighborhood for more than 30 years.
“The Manhattan Casino has had a proud history,” Mayor Ken Welch said. “And I remember much of it.”
Between the late 1930s and the early ‘60s, many of the greatest artists of the era played the Manhattan, which was the St. Petersburg destination on the so-called Chitlin’ Circuit:
Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, James Brown, Sam Cooke, Count Basie, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, B.B. King, Etta James, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Dinah Washington, Hank Ballard’s Midnighters, LaVern Baker, Muddy Waters, Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Reed, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Tex, Lloyd Price and many more all performed in the upstairs ballroom.
In the days of Jim Crow, many of these performers were not welcome in white establishments.
RELATED STORY: Vintage St. Pete: The Manhattan Casino
The Manhattan Casino was the center of social activity in the Deuces area until it closed in 1968.
“It is part of St. Pete history worth preserving, especially considering how many African American landmarks have been lost forever in our city,” Welch told the approximately 200 people gathered at the Center for Health Equity headquarters on 34th Street S.
Tuesday’s event did not call for public comment; rather, attendees were encouraged to scan a QR phone into their phones and respond to prepared questions.
Q: Do you think that the Manhattan Casino should have a restaurant and/or food concept on site?
Q: Do you think the Manhattan Casino should have event space available for rent?
“These are just few uses that are permitted by zoning,” announced Brian Caper, the city’s director of economic and workforce development. “It could be residential, hotel, office, medical, retail, studio, indoor recreation, museum, performing arts venue, library, meeting hall or school.”
The responses were tallied in real time, the results projected onto a large screen.
Nearly every answer was split evenly between “agree” or disagree.”
Q: Do you think that the Manhattan Casino should have a space for social services?
Q: Do you think the Manhattan Casino should be an extension office for city services?
Q: Should the Manhattan Casino be a city-operated venue, like the Coliseum or Sunken Gardens?
Caper then directed the audience members, seated in small groups at round tables, to talk amongst themselves; their input was duly recorded by a tableside “facilitator” with a laptop computer.
All data from this strangely impersonal procedure would be forwarded to the mayor’s office, said Caper, and would be summarized and published on or by Dec. 1.
It was, he stressed, just “the beginning of the conversation.”
One woman stood up and asked a question anyway: She said she had attended several events at the Manhattan Casino in recent years. “Why are we acting like whoever is keeping it open now does not exist?” she asked. “Like it’s just some cobwebbed-over building? Why are we acting like that?”
It was only then that Caper said the current lease, with Callaloo Finance Group, expires at the end of the month. The building will close for capital improvements, and re-open – with a new vision, ideally – in 2023.
November 7, 2022at6:01 pm
I did not appreciate the wording of the prepared questions. It was obvious they were done by persons that had no knowledge of the true history of the building.