I am taken back by what I perceive as attempts by some to criticize Mayor Rick Baker and his administration for believing in Midtown and responding to requests from the Midtown community for basic services: a grocery store, post office and a financial institution.
In deference to the Midtown community, Mayor Baker did not presume to know what was best for Midtown and held exhaustive community forums where the Midtown community developed a working definition of Midtown Economic Development along with a list of wants and desires.
The process is documented in the Midtown Strategic Plan. I encourage a current elected member or St. Petersburg City Council and others to read the plan.
The Baker Administration delivered the requested grocery stores and subsequent administrations lost them. Two reasons given for the closures are the inattentiveness of the Foster and Kriseman administrations and profit lost.
With the closures, jobs are lost and ready access to reasonably priced foods and supplies is once again complicated. Once again, residents are forced to walk, take taxi rides or hop a city bus to buy groceries.
As police chief and deputy mayor, I fought those who perceived Midtown as pathological and not worthy of investment. Crime, education and neighborhood deterioration are frequently cited as Midtown maladies.
The Baker administration’s agenda addressed each of these issues and more importantly, constructed a strategy focused on Midtown assets. People were primary and efforts to bring jobs were paramount.
Mayor Kriseman, members of his administration and others in the community suggest we abandon corporate investments in Midtown. Yet, at no time does anyone ever suggest we abandon corporate investments north of Central Avenue when businesses fail or decide to leave the market.
Given the long history of neglect in Midtown and other urban areas, more not less is necessary. We must intensify our efforts, stay the course and find strategies to incentivize business growth—both small and corporate.
The Baker administration did both. The Corridor Program was designed to build small business capacity and linking African-Americans business owners with corporate entities was an attempt to build capacity among African-American businesspersons.
We had relative success. We were attentive and worked to ensure everyone’s needs were met. When asked about his administration’s successes in Midtown, Kriseman pointed to other projects south of Midtown—signage in the Maximo area and the rebuild of Burger King and Publix on 34th street South of 30th Avenue.
I know firsthand that the Baker Administration heard and responded to requests from the Midtown community regarding its identity and need for basic services. The Midtown brand resulted from a desire to personalize the area and move away from references such as “down there” and “south side.”
As we progressed with the implementation of the Midtown Strategic Plan, feedback from Midtown residents was encouraging. Especially pleasing was feedback from Midtown residents who moved away and returned to what they described as an “improved revitalized community.” The Baker Administration listened, responded and delivered the grocery stores. Subsequent administrations lost them.