The 2020 Plan to create history trove on Commerce Park

Gwendolyn Reese is a founder of The 2020 Plan vision and current president of The African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg.

ST. PETERSBURG — The 2020 Plan team will soon be releasing a new trove of historic photos, property records and media clippings about the 14-acre site known as Commerce Park, which is slated for redevelopment by the City of St. Petersburg and private developers.

The archive is being curated by Gwendolyn Reese, President of the African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg. It was commissioned by The 2020 Plan to contribute to the public discourse underway about the ideal uses for Commerce Park as the largest assemblage of undeveloped land in South St. Petersburg (and the latest touchstone in the debate about gentrification in the City’s African American community).

According to Gypsy Gallardo, CEO of The 2020 Plan, “We commissioned this work to honor the truth that ‘Those who do not learn their history are doomed to repeat it.’ We must understand our history of striving and thriving, and reckon with the reasons for past failures, if we want Commerce Park to be a breakthrough development.”

The research is part of a growing roster of special projects by Reese and the African American Heritage Association to infuse historic perspectives into contemporary strategies for equity in South St. Petersburg.

Reese and Association co-founder author Jon Wilson are also working with the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg to create a history wall of images and stories in the new Center for Health Equity, a facility recently opened by the Foundation in the heart of South St. Pete.

While community and city leaders contemplate weighty questions about the future of Commerce Park, Reese is assembling the wisdom of the past to “help key leaders make informed choices,” in her words.

“When we look at projects such as Commerce Park and the redevelopment of Tropicana field it is vitally important that untold stories become a permanent part of our shared history,” says Reese.

Her work may shed light on the biggest bone of contention about the project – the mix of new housing slated for the site.

Community commentator Matt Byrd recently released a video with his perspective on the topic. He is among those who advocate for more “low-income” housing on the site.

City leaders have envisioned a mix of affordability levels at the site — from low-income to middle-income — which also aligns with the emerging Sankofa Vision by a collaborative of community organizations.

The new trove will paint a picture of the types of housing and retail that once occupied today’s Commerce Park. Reese notes that several of the community’s most prominent families lived there during the segregation era, while a number of businesses operated (both formal and informal).

Reese will work with a graphic designer to create a map of commercial and home edifices that dotted the Commerce Park landscape in the pre-integration era.

Gallardo and Reese will also host an invitation-only Trolley Tour of the African American Heritage Trail for representatives of 2020 Plan partner organizations. The Trail encompasses 19 historic markers covering a dozen city blocks. The tour originates at the Carter G. Woodson Museum and will incorporate a special focus on Commerce Park (roughly two blocks north of the Museum).

To contribute photos, documents and information to the project, please call the Heritage Association at 727-537-0449.

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