Save the Manhattan Casino

Shawandra Bell Save Manhattan, featured, letter

Dear Editor:

I am a lifelong resident of the 22nd Street community. I have always had the dream of having a restaurant and lounge in my community. I am a caterer with my own small business, “It’s for de Soul Catering.”

I have many people in support of my current business and have made strides to increase my education by completing classes with the Small Business Administration on 16th Street South and finished the Entrepreneur Academy at the Greenhouse.  The classes were focused on business strategy and planning.

I have been a self-employed vendor for more than four years and active with the Deuces Live Main Street. My first vending experience was as a participant in the Feet on the Street Festival, which was a great success.

I began attending the Deuces Live Main Street Board meetings to review the many changes that were upcoming in my community. After approximately one year, I decided this was a great opportunity to be a part of something where I could grow and develop. I was eventually nominated and was voted onto the Deuces Live Board. I was then appointed as the Economic Vitality Chair/Vendor Coordinator.

Upon discussing my dream of having my own storefront business, I shared my views with Chuck Egerter, a past president and current member of the Deuces Board. He was supportive and asked if I had shared it with anyone. I told him I had not.

He urged me to share my ideas with Gloria Campbell, and together we approached her. Mrs. Campbell’s excitement was the greatest spark in my ignition and I felt that maybe one day I could build my restaurant up and move into the Manhattan Casino.

As we further discussed my history, I was advised to continue to build my skills towards the goal of owning a restaurant and lounge in my community. Chuck and Gloria both accepted the challenge to support my efforts to open a restaurant lounge.

Then the rumors started. There was another group that was going to put a restaurant into the Manhattan Casino. This sparked the evolution of the small group focused on my dream of opening a restaurant lounge into a much bigger group with the goal of saving the Manhattan Casino.

Fred Johnson, a Clearwater Jazz Hall of Famer and former arts administrator at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts/Straz Center, was added to the group to build programming for the top part of the building.

Gordon Davis, one of the founders of the South Tampa restaurant district, was brought on board because he’s a successful restaurateur. Gordon initially came on to just help put the proposal together, but our association evolved into a mentor/mentee relationship and he agreed to mentor me for up to five years to make sure that I have the skills to run a large restaurant.

This is how the Manhattan Casino Legacy Collaborative was born. Our group knew that if we didn’t come up with a proposal from the community, the city could give the Manhattan to another group and the history and legacy would be gone.

Shawandra Bell Save Manhattan, featuredWe formed as a non-profit so that we could raise the money to start the restaurant and fund the upstairs until the restaurant could pay its own expenses. I need your help. Please like us on Facebook @Manhattan Casino Legacy Collaborative and while you’re there sign the petition. Also, come down to city hall and let them know that you want someone who grew up on the street to be in the Manhattan.

Shawandra Bell

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