Sheron Potts grew up in the Gas Plant area. She shared that her parents started the Potts Recreation Center, which became a gathering place for kids and featured after-school programs.
By Frank Drouzas
ST. PETERSBURG — Hundreds of Black families, businesses, churches, and community spaces were displaced or destroyed by the construction of Tropicana Field. Former residents of the Gas Plant and Laurel Park neighborhoods and their descendants share memories of a safe, supportive, and thriving community and the lasting impact of its demolition.
The story of the Gas Plant and Laurel Park neighborhoods is both unique to Pinellas County as well as a history that has been repeated across this country, across generations of Black and Brown communities. If we are to move forward with race equity, we must know, understand, honor, and be changed by our collective past.
Sheron Potts, who grew up at 432 11th St. S, is part of a family that helped make a difference in young people’s lives in the Gas Plant district.
Prominent in the community, her parents started the Potts Recreation Center, which became a gathering place for kids and featured after-school programs.
“They did a lot of things to help the community and help women get on their feet,” Potts said. “They helped with programs, after-school programs for the kids in the neighborhood.”
Potts’ parents took advantage of an abandoned building next door to where they lived in Palm Court and invited neighborhood children to meet there, where they could get help with their homework and participate in various programs. Potts explained that the city then got involved in helping her family establish a proper recreation center.
“The city donated money for them to build a recreation center which was called Potts Recreation,” she said, “but then they came in and forced everybody out. So, everybody had to move out and leave, and that was the end of Potts Recreation Center.”
Potts recalled that the center held Christmas parties every year for the neighborhood and even supplied toys to some parents who found it difficult to buy their children anything for the holidays.
“My mother would have food in the evening time for kids,” Potts remembered. “Soup and sandwiches and stuff like that to help the parents in the evening that had to go to work. I really miss that, and they just came in and basically took that away.”
Click here to watch videos of residents recalling their gas plant memories.