Top row, L-R, Kiambu Mudada, Frank Wells and Larry Newsome
Bottom row, L-R, Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter, Michael Robinson and Mayor Kriseman
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Officials at the city held a community meeting to determine what’s next for Tangerine Plaza on 18th Avenue South.
Packed into St. Petersburg College’s Midtown Center, comments ranged from a cooperative to a Chuck E. Cheese’s to a skating rink to fill the space Walmart left opened when they closed their doors Feb. 6.
Fred Haddad said, “Give Midtown to Midtown,” meaning to divide the space up into business that would be operated by Midtown residents who would be taught how to run a business through an educational center located on site.
Mayor Rick Kriseman said whatever goes in the plaza next is about the long term.
“This is about doing something on this site that would be sustainable and something the community wants.”
He said the city continues to do the same thing over and over with the same results, and questions if they would be better off looking at options that create access to the grocery stores such as better transportation or a food delivery service.
“Again, I’m tossing ideas out and I’m doing that for a reason because that’s what I want you all to do with it,” he said.
Once the floor was open to the audience, people like Robin Cooper began to express their frustrations.
“I live only five blocks from the Walmart that I miss terribly,” she said.
With no income coming in at the moment, she can’t afford to spend her food stamp dollars on a $5 gallon of milk at a corner store. For now, she has to take two buses just to shop at Save-A-Lot.
Community activist Winnie Foster said she is an ardent believer in cooperatives instead of corporations. She said there are many forms of cooperatives out there and now would be a great opportunity to explore them.
Kiambu Mudada, director of Our Brother’s Keeper, started out taking two elderly residents to Save-A-Lot. Now through word of mouth, he and his sister and other volunteers make the trip three or four times a day for people who would be stranded if not from their generosity.
“People need a grocery store; one that’s reliable and dependable, clean for the elderly, the young and people that are low income,” he said.
Michael Robinson with the Florida Dream Center does not live in the community but likes the idea of a co-op.
“Anything that is extra is recycled back into the business. That would lower prices or put more money back into the community for outreach activities,” he said.
He also said the community needs to understand the difference between a supermarket and a grocery store.
“We’re talking about grocery stores that are smaller but offer exactly what the residents need,” said Robinson.
Kriseman also questioned if a large supermarket is a right fit for the area.
Larry Newsome, president of Urban Development Solutions who developed the shopping center said many nearby grocery stores did not exist when the development of the property began.
“The community just did not support this store to the level that they should have,” said Newsome, noting that with so many new stores just miles away, it makes it harder for any store to succeed in that area.
Director of Planning and Economic Development Dave Goodwin showed a market analysis that revealed there are 23 food stores within a 10-minute drive of the site.
However, 10 minutes in a car could relate to hours on a bus.
Frank Wells with Venture House said if a grocery store goes on that site, the money leaves the community.
“If it’s some kind of community owned business then you’re spending money and putting money in your neighbor’s pocket and they can spend it at another store locally.”
Grassroots activist Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter had a laundry list of reasons as to why she would not shop at Walmart, including outdated food and them not hiring within the community.
“Whoever you bring up in here, they need to come with the same mindset and heart the same way they do on the north side and downtown.”
James Adams, owner of Mook Scoop Productions said: “keep big business out of the community.”
The majority of citizens attending last Thursday, Feb. 23 seemed to be on the same page that food and economic development is what’s needed in the area.
The mayor promised this was the first of many community meetings.