How long? How much more long? How long?

‘How long must we wait before a redevelopment plan for Tropicana Field is approved? Haven’t we waited long enough,’ asked community activist Gwendolyn Reese.


The title I selected for this piece is borrowed from the song “How Long” by Sweet Honey in the Rock, an all-woman, African American, a cappella ensemble. Their music is deeply rooted in African-American culture and history and includes spirituals, protest songs, and more.

The song “How Long” speaks to how long Black people have been waiting for change, real change that is radical and impactful. Two of the song’s most powerful verses are:

You hold your breath for change to come, and they gon have to carry you out.

I want to know how much longer is/I’m just gon have to wait on you.

To the City of St. Petersburg, I ask how long? How long must we wait before a redevelopment plan for Tropicana Field is approved? Haven’t we waited long enough?

Tropicana Field sits atop of a once vibrant Black neighborhood called the Gas Plant District. Photo courtesy of the City of St. Petersburg.

Presently, there is a refrain running its course through the greater St. Petersburg community. City Council members, candidates seeking to be the next mayor, and even some residents are all telling us, once again, to wait before we take the next steps in this crucial endeavor.

Well, in the words of Sweet Honey in the Rock, my question is: How Long? Perhaps a question of equal importance is, why should we wait? Why should we delay selecting a developing partner for the redevelopment of Tropicana Field until after the election? What is the purpose of waiting?

Who benefits from more waiting? Why are some who have only recently gotten involved suggesting that the community has not been heard when we have been talking about this matter for more than six years? This is not a recent issue. These same people are calling for additional listening sessions.

Why? For political grandstanding? Special interests? What is new or important enough to wait even longer? I say no more waiting. Finally, we have two excellent proposals on the table. We must select one and move forward. Now!

Mayor Kriseman has worked diligently on this issue. One might even say he and his administration have worked passionately to develop a Request For Proposal (RFP) that guarantees equity in a way that has never been attempted before in this city. Why then, as some are saying, should our next mayor and city council decide?

This is a project that will indeed extend throughout 20, maybe even 30 years. The project will be passed on to at least two of our next mayors, depending on how many terms are served. Likewise, this project will span several terms for members of our city council that are elected and reelected during this period.

What are we waiting for?

One question of particular irrelevance, in my humble view, is “what about the Rays?” Well, my answer to this question is, what about them? What is in the best interest of the Rays does not, and should not, come before what is in the best interest of the community.

Our neighbors on the other side of the Bay are not waiting. We all know that plans are being made. The Rays are going to do what is best for the Rays. We must do what is best for St. Petersburg.

Why can’t we wait any longer? Why should we wait?

I could continue asking why some feel that it is important to wait, but I’m pretty sure that my point has been made. Now let me share why I am in favor of moving forward and several reasons that should be considered.

First, the African-American community has waited for more than 40 years. During this time, promises have been made. Those promises have pretty much all been broken.

Secondly, the developing partners have invested thousands of dollars in responding to the RFP. They have enthusiastically answered questions asked by the community in various forums, by the internal review team, and by those in government.

We stand to lose credibility as a city with developers across the nation if we decide to stop now and start all over again later. Yes, there is always a possibility that we would get a better proposal than the ones we received. I would argue that there is an even higher probability that we will not and, as a result, we may even lose the two finalists we have now.

How many developers will be willing to respond to an all-new RFP? How many developers would be enthusiastic about starting all over to go through such an expensive and tedious process one more time? If we are so willing to negate what has been a thorough and transparent process, what’s to say, we won’t do it again.

The third reason may be the most important. I do not believe another politician will be as committed to the equity requirements in this proposal as Mayor Kriseman. His administration has acknowledged the broken promises, focused on the inclusion of the community in the process, and was intentional in setting detailed equity goals and requirements.

The selection of the developing partner is not the end of this endeavor. It is only the beginning. The next mayor will have the opportunity to put his stamp on the project in myriad ways.

It is my humble opinion that the decision regarding the future of Tropicana Field should not be based on what is best for the city council, mayoral candidates, or the Rays. The decision should be based on what is best for the community at large.

The selection of the developing partner should be made now, by our current mayor. His selection should then be approved by council as expeditiously as possible to ensure that we see that it will be different this time. I say no more waiting. This is the time to act; no more waiting and wondering.

As a people, we have always been expected to, or made to, wait for way overdue things. During slavery, we were told we would get our reward in heaven. In many states, including Florida, we were forced to wait months before learning of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Our right to vote had to wait until white women were granted the right first, and we are still waiting for social, economic, and racial justice. Now we have an opportunity to say we are not willing to wait again.

We have waited more than 40 years for justice regarding Tropicana Field, and we are unwilling to wait any longer. The time to act is now. I say, no more waiting. No more asking how long. No more saying

: I want to know how much longer is/I’m just gon have to wait on you.

This is my humble opinion, nothing more, nothing less.

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