Bayou Highlands Neighborhood Association is on the comeback

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – After years of inactivity, the Bayou Highlands Neighborhood Association is reorganizing and reactivating. Last Sat., April 16 a large block party with free food, music, giveaways and games for the kids was held at Bayou Highlands Neighborhood Park to inform residents of the benefits of having an active association.

Interim President Norm Scott took the initiative to revive the association that has been defunct for more than five years. His plan was to have a cookout to get people excited and hopefully join the association.

“As a neighborhood we can accomplish more in terms of a relationship with the city,” he said. “If we speak with one voice from the neighborhood hopeful we’ll get more recognition and response from the city and city agencies.”

Having moved to St. Pete a year ago, Scott and his wife settled in Bayou Highlands because of its proximity to downtown and the beaches and it has one of the lowest crime rates in the city.

Council of Neighborhood Associations Membership Chair Tom Lally was on hand to enjoy the afternoon and was really pleased with the turn out.

“I’ve been looking around for so long for someone to start this association up again,” he said. I ran into Norm and look what he’s done in a really short amount of time.”

Lally wants citizens around the city to know that events such as Saturday’s block party can be funded by the Mayor’s Neighborhood Mini Grant Program. Eligible applicants must be a neighborhood, homeowners or business association listed on the city’s neighborhood contact or Crime Watch lists, or in the process of forming an association with the assistance of the city.

“There’s money out there. The city is willing to help invest to have these kinds of things,” Lally stated.

He also wants citizens to know that the Kriseman administration encourages neighborhoods to start up associations, and the mini grants may just be the boost that some neighborhoods need.

Scott organized a group of residents to walk the entire neighborhood and hang door flyers on all 478 doors to get the word out about the block party. And by the looks of the crowd, their efforts paid off. Hundreds of people came out to meet their neighbors, members of the police department and the fire department.

Pam has lived in the neighborhood since 2000. Growing up in the Childs Park area, she welcomed the atmosphere in Bayou Highlands.

“We don’t have to worry about all the crime like I was accustomed to when I was growing up,” she said. “I like the fact that there is diversity in the neighborhood versus what we had when I was growing up, and that’s what I wanted my kids to experience—the diversity of families and cultures.

Bayou Highlands is a small community on the south side of town. It’s a family friendly neighborhood with its own park, tree-lined streets and some homes dating as far back as the 1920s. Its boundaries are from 45th Avenue South to 54th Avenue South and from Martin Luther King Jr. Street South to Fourth Street South.

Winston and Joan Miller have lived in the neighborhood since 1988 and raised two children in their house. Coming from New York City, she finds it a little bucolic, but a great place to raise a family.

“It’s a little rustic but not all the way out in the woods,” she said. “There is a mix of people, which I like. It’s always had diversity.”

Both members of the old association, they site the economic down turn as one of the reasons why it shut down.

“We had a good neighborhood association before but after the economy took a dive, a lot of changes happened in the neighborhood and it just fizzled out,” said Winston.

Munching on cheeseburgers and chips, neighbors sat under shade trees getting to know each other. The Millers met Scott for the first time and found out that they not only both originally hail from Jamaica, but that they both attended the same college in New York during the same time period.

Since the association was last in full swing, many new faces have moved into the neighborhood. Mac Ruger just moved in last month and took some time off from home renovations to meet some of his neighbors. He too appreciates the diversity of the neighborhood.

“I would drive around before I moved in and I saw white people walking their dogs; my neighbors are Asian; I saw black people walking their dogs. I just thought that was pretty good to see nowadays,” he stated.

The first monthly meeting will be held Saturday, April 30 from 12-2 p.m. at Bay Vista Recreation Center, 7000 4th St. S. City Councilman Karl Nurse will be in attendance and the topic of discussion will be how the association can be reinitiated.

Scott envisions having three people serve in four offices: presidency, vice presidency, treasurer and secretary.

“So each office will have a minimum of three persons serving and they will have equal responsibilities,” said Scott. “In speaking with former officers, I think for the most part they were burnt out.”

Mary Darling can attest to that. She was the president of the old association for seven years. She said she is willing to be in an advisory position, but does not want to be an officer.

“It got the point where there was a lot of work to do and a lot of people weren’t stepping up to help and it was the board that was doing all the work. I was doing multiple things and decided to step down.”

Darling said that everyone wanted to attend the events but no one wanted to put in the work. “It’s a lot of work to keep the neighborhood going,” she said.

Scott encourages everyone to sign up on nextdoor.com and like the association of Facebook to keep up with the goings on.

For more information about the mini grants, please contact the Community Services Department at (727) 892- 5141 or email them at ICAN@stpete.org.

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