Midtown redevelopment lessons learned

Maria Scruggs

Dear Editor,

The closing of Walmart has shined an even brighter light on the redevelopment failures within south St. Petersburg.  Fingers are being pointed and blame assigned, and I am not quite sure why. It doesn’t matter who was in office and when, the fact is that in spite of the millions of public dollars that have come through or gone by south St. Petersburg, the results are the same: there has been very little meaningful or sustained redevelopment in the area.

It would have been my hope that as opposed to current and former administrations taking pot shots at each other’s time in office, the discussion at this point would be simple. Through the Baker, Foster and Kriseman administrations, the conversations must begin with a question: What lessons have we learned about what works and doesn’t work?

Yes, this means some truth telling and some bruised egos, but at the end of the day, folks would readily be able to see that, again I say, in spite of all the good intentions, sustained redevelopment in south St. Petersburg has been non-existent and it won’t happen with a shotgun approach of trying something to see what sticks.

To get the discussion going and the list started, I would like to offer a couple of observations from three very different perspectives: as a parent who raised a daughter in Midtown, a professional who has worked within three redevelopment/community development projects (HOPE VI, Childs Park Youth Initiative and Sisters for Breast Health Program with St. Anthony’s) and lastly as a resident who came back to St. Petersburg with a passion for ensuring the community I grew up in had the opportunity to thrive again.

The Southside CRA plan, the Midtown Plan, Hope VI, Brownfields, etc. were done in a vacuum. The efforts for job training were not linked directly to Career Source. If Career Source receives public money and their mission is to link unemployed people to businesses, where was the strategy that talks specifically about how the CRA planning process is linked to career source to create X number of jobs by 2020?

The St. Petersburg Chamber has a Grow Smart initiative that includes a substantial vision of the Innovation District. Neither the Midtown Strategic Plan nor the Southside CRA identified a strategy that linked residents in Midtown to the jobs and business opportunities within the district that abuts Midtown.

The community organizations that have been brought to lead the planning efforts did not have the level of objectivity nor experience to lead a planning process in Midtown.

The Southside CRA plan did not contain any measurable goals and objectives and city staffers said that was intentional.

There was no intentional strategy to enhance businesses that were already in the CRA. For example, there are approximately 100 independently owned early childhood education centers and homes in south St. Petersburg. As opposed to working with those providers to support their efforts in becoming “quality” early childhood education programs, there was simply a mention of early childhood education in the south side CRA.

My guess is if the discussion started here, we may be able to move further down the road of advancing economic development in south St. Petersburg

Maria L. Scruggs, President, St. Petersburg Branch NAACP

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