Moving from helpers to leaders: From Jordan Park to the Gas Plant

Michael Lundy, CEO of St. Petersburg Housing Authority, Brian Evjen-Norstar vice president of Development, Dr. Basha Jordan, Consultant Thomas Huggins


Dear Editor:

Having been a pastor since 1977, a St. Petersburg Housing Commissioner and the grandson of Elder Jordan, Sr., who moved from being enslaved to giving the land to the City of St. Petersburg where Jordan Park is today, God has allowed me to experience 75 years living in the African-American community.

We, as Black people living in St. Pete, have an excellent opportunity to shape our future positively if we work together and stay close to what’s taking place regarding the present $93 million redevelopment of Jordan Park and the approximate $3 billion development of the Gas Plant area/Tropicana Field.

If we take an honest look at Black history, we as a people have made great strides when we stayed together during and after slavery. We made the master rich through our collective cotton picking, but our forefathers also built churches and Historically Black Colleges and Universities by working together despite overt racism and segregation.

Challenges still exist, and we must recognize that there are still some of our people the adversary is using to attempt to defeat us from moving from helpers to leaders if we allow it.

After talking with the CEO of the St. Pete Housing Authority on the telephone about another community matter, it was revealed to me that most contractors and subcontractors in June 2022 were white. Also, I learned that the contract stated that the goal was to have 30 percent minority participation in the construction area of the Jordan Park Redevelopment Project.

However, at that time, there was only 18 percent minority participation. After praying about what to do and talking to Mark Lundy, a meeting was held last July 21 at New Faith Church, where Rev. Liz Siplin is pastor. I purposely selected community pastors and leaders to be present to meet with Norstar Development Vice President Brian Evjen, Consultant Thomas Huggins, Ariel Business Group and Mark Lundy, CEO of St. Petersburg Housing Authority.

We had three meetings between July and December. During this time, rather than the percentage of participation going up, it went down to 17 percent. During these meetings, we noticed that the developer and consultant were not responding to our needs. They were not putting their words into action but were just talking loudly and saying nothing.

At one meeting, during my role as convener, I confronted the white developer and Black consultant about their inconsistency between action and words. I told them they were “treading water” and going nowhere.

All that has now changed once I called in the Department of Housing and Community Development, better known as HUD. God sent in a Black female field office director, who just happens to be a pastor.

There are a few things I have learned since taking on this role of a Black spiritual leader and motivator for Jordan Park. I believe this will be vital to “our” entire community as it relates to Jordan Park and the Gas Plant Redevelopment district, especially Black people, pastors, elected officials and community leaders:

– Don’t wait until the Tropicana construction starts to become involved. Get at the table and make your requests where it will be heard, not in the parking lot. Our main drawback in the Jordan Park Project is that we did not have strong Black voices pushing for our people at the beginning.

Remember, white people historically have always attempted to lead in everything, especially in the Black community. We cannot afford to stand by without concentrated, consistent participation, and if we don’t, the same thing will happen all over again.

– Projects designed to benefit the Black community must include contractual requirements, not goals. During our meetings with the Jordan Park developer and consultant, the statement “30 percent is only a goal” was made consistently as though it was not taken seriously.

– If the Gas Plant redevelopment project is to benefit Black people, there needs to be requirements stipulated that profit Black people in the same proportion that it crippled us financially, socially, residentially, economically, spiritually, and mentally.

My suggestion is that at least 51% of everything related to the Gas Plant Redevelopment project be specifically “a “requirement” to benefit Black people and not just a “goal.”  An African American must be the developer and/or the general contractor and at least 51 percent of the subcontractors.

If Black people are not in leadership in this project, we will be relegated to just being “helpers.” We need Black voices at the table to make it happen. The politics of racism must end now, in the name of Jesus. African Americans have an explicit time to become leaders.

– Assertive, Holy Ghost-filled Black pastors and community leaders must be at the table to bring spiritual vibrancy into the equation. There are some spirit-led men and women of God that God put on our Jordan Park Redevelopment team, like Rev. Frank Peterman, Rev. Robert Coleman, Pastor Liz Siplin, Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil and Pastor Kara Lynn Brubaker.

Pastors have authority from up above that is unstoppable. One spirit-filled politician who needs to be at the table is Commissioner Rene Flowers, who “ain’t scared of a fight,” and Senator Darryl Rouson as well. We need spiritual watchdogs to spot and call out money-hungry oppressors who will change the laws and rules “to benefit the status quo rather than those living low.”

These spiritual watchdogs are crucial in keeping our own people honest and not subject to being bought off to stop the Black train of progress from reaching its destination.

– We always need a ram in the bush, somebody God sends as “the heavy hitter.” There came a time after our Jordan Park team had met three times when it became apparent that the developer was not going to move, and I had to follow the suggestion of one of our pastors who had some contacts at HUD.

This contact was only to be made as a last resort. After much prayer, I made the call. God did the rest. Three days after the call, there was an emergency meeting that took place with the developer, HUD representative and our team of pastors and community leaders.

Everything has now changed because God sent a heavy hitter. Where is the heavy hitter who will make a difference for the Black people of St. Pete? They will have to come from the outside.

“If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray,  and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14).

Prayer still works today for us as it did for our forefathers/mothers.

Mayor Ken Welch mentioned his appreciation for the pastors in his State of the City Address on Jan. 30 when he announced his choice for the proposals submitted for the Historic Gas Plant District Development. Let us, as Black people, pastors and leaders of God remember the importance of working together and being at the table from the beginning.

Remember that this project must have requirements, not just goals, if Black people are to really benefit from this glorious opportunity for change. Our time is now!

Dr. Basha P. Jordan, Jr.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

scroll to top