Larry Newsome, president of Urban Development Solutions
When I read the article written by Charles Frago in the Tampa Bay Times, I was very angry but not really surprised. I had been forewarned that the city was going to do a hit job on me and try to blame me for the grocery store closing. There is a familiar pattern here for this administration.
If something blows up on your watch, blame previous administrations; and if it happens in Midtown, blame the black guy.
Did it make sense for the mayor to offer incentives for Walmart to stay but not make those offers before the official decision to leave was made? Have you seen any article or other utterance where this administration has taken any responsibility for any of what happened? Why is it not an embarrassment to say they were blindsided when they were forewarned months ago that the store was struggling?
From beginning to end, the whole underlying premise of this article is that the city’s error in this project was going with the inexperienced, crooked black guy. Although the owner and developer of the project was and is Urban Development Solutions Inc., a non- profit Florida corporation, through its wholly owned affiliate Queensboro 1 LLC, that fact was not mentioned anywhere in the article.
It was not mentioned because the whole purpose was to attack and demean me, Larry Newsome. Attacking and demeaning me was necessary in order for the readers to buy into all of the other garbage included in the article.
The underlying subliminal message is that had the city stuck with mainstream developers this would have been a successful project and the grocery stores would not have left. The facts are that both stores publicly stated that they closed because they could not generate sufficient revenues to earn a profit, which has nothing to do with how the project was developed or managed.
This community was without a grocery store for 35 years. None of the mainstream developers made any effort to develop one because main development techniques would not have worked. UDS spent five years of painstaking effort to develop this project.
It raised over $9.5 million dollars to make it a reality. Only $2.5 million of those dollars came from the city. As the city retained ownership of the land, which was $1.2 million, their only investment at risk was $1.3 million. This was not a city development project. This was a project developed by UDS in which the city along with the federal government and other stakeholders participated. You would not know that from reading the article.
It is obvious from the way the article was written that Mr. Fargo had spent a lot of time with certain people on city staff that had been told that they needed to take care of me. The story is full of lies, innuendo, alternative facts and makes clear that the person writing is not a business or real estate person. If he were he would know that a lot of the stuff he was told was garbage.
I stand ready at any point in time to stand before this community and debate anyone that the city wishes to put forward including the mayor. This community deserves to know the facts. Not this sorry hit job put together by them and the Times.
No one can do a nine million dollar project that was as complicated as the Midtown Plaza project was without a lot of help from experienced real estate lawyers, real estate professionals and experienced business people. This was a long slow painstaking project that took almost five years and $200,000 in legal fees to complete.
The end result of all of that effort was a beautiful plaza that won the award as the best redevelopment project in Florida for 2005. We did this while providing the anchor tenant with the deeply discounted lease rates that made it possible for them to come to the center.
The city performed market research and had focus groups that identified a grocery store as the number one priority of the community. UDS’s financial analysis indicated that Midtown could support three grocery stores. Sweetbay did their own market analysis and we used that analysis to tailor the lease agreement to their specific needs. We opened the store to great fanfare.
What we did not contemplate was the amount of hubris that had built up within the community over supporting community businesses. This was not something that simply occurred when the Sweetbay store opened. It was and has been within the community and has built up over decades. It is going to take far more that the civic-minded people in the community to resolve this problem. It is not a problem unique to Midtown. It is a problem all over this country.
Many communities have recognized the problem and begun to develop programs to deal with it. Unfortunately, this administration does not have any programs to deal with it and does not even recognize its existence. However, as a businessperson that has wrestled with it every day for the last 15 years, I know that it is the one problem that will keep Midtown from moving forward until this issue is effectively dealt with.
The messages coming from this administration are unfortunately confusing and demonstrate a total lack of understanding of what is going on, on the ground in Midtown. On the one hand the mayor is publicly stating that the city is moving forward with the acquisition of the shopping center, but on the other hand, the deputy mayor says that building a beautiful store in a sea of poverty is useless.
That begs the question as to why the city is willing to pay $2.2 million dollars for a useless shopping center with no anchor tenant, in a sea of poverty. Especially if they have no programs to assist likely tenants in being successful by connecting with their potential customers.
The programs that the city has are great if you have a base of successful businesses to build upon. However, in the sea of poverty, that the deputy mayor sees, these programs are largely ineffectual because they are not significant enough to matter.
The vast majority of businesses of the size that the city is focusing on fail with the first three to five years. In a community like Midtown the failure rate is much higher. This city did a lot of the things this current administration is doing now over 25 years ago. They did not work too well then and the prognosis is not very good for the programs they have now. How do I know this? I was there and active in the effort to grow small businesses in Midtown.
If this city is serious about transforming Midtown, we need a 10 year $200 million dollar plan. Not one where one to two million per year is spent and celebrated as if it is a major accomplishment. That is what has been happening for most of the last 40 years.
If you would like a detailed point-by-point rebuttal to Frago’s article, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a copy.