BY LEAH MCRAE, Director of Education and Community Engagement
ST. PETERSBURG –Now is the time to be deliberate about the next iteration of Tangerine Plaza. Rather than take a top-down approach that imposes a solution to a problem, the City of St. Petersburg has chosen to filter our actions through the lens of what the community wants and needs. Unapologetically, we seek to cultivate paths to economic growth and prosperity.
In February, we hosted a conversation on the Douglas L. Jamerson, Jr. campus of St Petersburg College to discuss the impact the closing of the Walmart Neighborhood Store had on our community. We heard two major concerns from our friends and neighbors: food insecurity and food access.
This was not surprising, as we know that large areas of South St. Pete have suffered from access to fresh affordable foods for decades. However, we now have an opportunity to do things differently than they have been done in the past; an opportunity to work together, as partners, on a new approach.
At Mayor Rick Kriseman’s direction, a free grocery shuttle has been implemented to test whether transportation is, in fact, a barrier to access to fresh healthy food. It also helps us to gauge support for a future grocery store at Tangerine Plaza.
We will learn if proximity to a grocery store is a barrier, or have our residents found other ways of getting access to groceries? Riders on the shuttle are asked to complete a voluntary survey about their experience. We hope that the insight we gain from the survey will inform what approach we take in developing a plan for Tangerine Plaza.
The shuttle is just the first of many efforts to plan ahead for the eventual purchase of Tangerine Plaza by the city. Since the closing of the Walmart Neighborhood store, community members have brought a number of potential uses of the plaza to the City. We have had discussions that range from starting a Food Co-op, Farmer’s Market or Non-profit grocery store to building a commercial kitchen space that can be used by local entrepreneurs. Redeveloping the site for another purpose altogether is even an option.
Mayor Kriseman and our team intend to explore every option, beyond the traditional, in partnership with experts from the community. In our planning, we will also be reaching out to local consultants and land developers to survey the area for its potential growth. In the near future, you can expect to see more outreach seeking community feedback on the development approach. We encourage your participation and feedback.
Whatever the ultimate use of the space, we want to see Tangerine Plaza and the surrounding area be successful in sustaining and self-perpetuating ways. The vision for the City of St. Petersburg is to create a city of opportunity for all who come to work, live, and play. Giving life to that vision means a strategic and thoughtful approach to everything we do.