ST. PETERSBURG – President of Urban Development Solutions Larry Newsome held a meeting to discuss creating a sustainable economic development plan for Midtown rather than the one offered up by the City’s South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA).
In the fellowship hall on March 7 at Bethel Community Baptist Church, a dozen or so community members discussed how to start the process where a plan could develop.
“What we should be doing or looking at is what can happen or what is possible with respect to Midtown if we put our minds to it,” said Newsome.
Newsome brought an example of what he feels is a viable plan that will touch on affordable housing, business development, high-quality childcare, educating residents, administration and oversight and the funding of organizations that are already working to make a difference in the area.
Grassroots activist Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter said whatever plans are come up with, ordinary citizens need to be involved.
“They [the city] wants to make decisions about my community that I’ve lived in for 61 years, but they’ve never asked or invited me to the table,” she said.
Newsome was in complete agreement saying if Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had waited for the leaders to lead, the Civil Rights Movement may not have happened.
His example plan entailed $200 million dollars coming from these sources:
• Collateralization of the CRA, anticipating that the city would go out and sell a bond or by other means raise $40 million in available funds
• General Funds – the city would commit to allocating $2 million per year to fund the agreed upon uses
• Property taxes allocated from the redevelopment of Tropicana Field – the redevelopment could generate as much as $20-25 million dollars per year of property taxes with 25 percent of those taxes committed to Midtown
• In-kind land – A program could be started to contribute the hundreds of parcels of vacant land on the south side to a development consortium of local general contractors who would build houses
• Use both federal and state government housing and tax credit programs that can be utilized in development
• Private capital – There are several banks that have begun large billion dollar programs to invest in inner cities and there are large and small foundations that are willing to invest in a viable plan
Newsome said in the past, mayors have come out with plans that will only spend one or two million dollars a year. He feels there is no way that amount will bring transformative change in a community this large.
“You’re never going to be able to look at and see change over a million dollars because it’s just way too small and it’s spent in ways that no empirical evidence would suggest that it matters,” he said, eluding to the palm trees the Fischer administration planted along 16th Street South hoping for an economic boost to the area.
Faye Watson feels the issues go beyond whoever is in the mayor’s office. She said that if the black community does not reach out and educate itself and form small cells in the community to help guide each other, there would be no change.
“Nothing happens until somebody gets a job,” Watson said. “You can build all the business you want. You will rely on white folks to come into your community and buy your goods and services if you do not afford opportunities for employment to black people who reside in those communities.”
Noting a comment from Gov. Rick Scott, Watson said we cannot continue to build our state on tourism. We have to offer incentives for large corporations to come to our city, she said.
“I wouldn’t care if they spend half the CRA money and brought 20 here. If these people get jobs, they can lift themselves out of their situation,” she said, mentioning that Tampa enticed Citi Group and Amazon to set up shop there.
Rick Smith, chief of staff for the Service Employees International Union said Newsome’s example plan was feasible, but it will not happen without political power.
“This plan here is totally doable. Here’s where we hit the wall, there ain’t enough money in the city until you start talking about transformational change…This doesn’t happen until you have political power.
The next meeting is scheduled towards the end of the month. Check The Weekly Challenger for the time and date.