St. Pete says ‘Yes’ to major equity project; Deuces Rising & Sankofa win Key votes

Moments after the vote, Mayor Rick Kriseman and Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin (center) celebrate with Sankofa Advisory Council members and supporters.

By Gypsy Gallardo, The Powerbroker

ST. PETERSBURG — The St. Petersburg City Council voted yes, six to one, last week to ink an operating partnership tied to the largest single equity investment ever made by the city.

The Oct. 21 vote approved the city’s lease and operating agreement with the Sankofa Group to manage the still-in-process facilities known as Sankofa on the Deuces. The vote also authorized the creation of a new Community Fund seeded by a sizable portion of the revenue generated by the venture.

Five of the eight Councilmembers voted “yes” last April to a co-development partnership with the Sankofa Group: Councilmembers Deborah Figgs-SandersLisa Wheeler-BowmanAmy FosterDarden Rice, and Brandi Gabbard.

Last week’s yes votes came from four of the same (minus Gabbard, who was absent) along with approvals from Council Chairman Ed Montanari and Gina Driscoll. Mayoral candidate and current Councilmember Robert Blackmon gave the lone no vote.

“This is how we, as a city, go from equity talk to equity walk,” said Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin in introducing the item to council. “Time and again, this city’s leadership – the public and private sector – step up to the plate with a bold vision, innovative ideas, and tireless effort to make happen those things that matter. This lease – in support of the Sankofa Project – is our latest example of a project that matters a great deal. Our latest opportunity to demonstrate our intent of equitable development with purposeful action.”

The roughly $22 million project will entail an estimated $16 million in funding from the City of St. Petersburg. The Sankofa Group is pursuing six other funding sources to absorb the remaining costs.

Draft rendering of Deuces Rising & Sankofa on the Deuces by Howard & Associates International, one of four firms on the project’s design-build team, which HORUS Construction leads.

The Sankofa project is one element of the City’s Deuces Rising plan and the community-led IGNITE Deuces initiative to inspire the end-to-end revitalization of 22nd Street (a.k.a., the Deuces).

The city has committed $25 million to the vision of reviving the Deuces, including investments in the development of Sankofa on the Deuces, the new Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, the redevelopment of Tangerine Plaza, streetscaping, and place-making.

The Sankofa facility is the first in the Deuces Rising portfolio to go vertical and is the commercial component of the three-part Sankofa Vision. The broader project also includes new construction of approximately 24 townhomes, for sale to families at 60 to 120 percent of area median income, on an adjacent site.

A third component is the creation of a new Community Fund to accelerate development along the Deuces and other corridors in the South St. Petersburg CRA.

Mayor Rick Kriseman addressed the council just before the vote. He reminded the body, “Part of our vision statement is that we want to be innovative, creative, and a competitive community that honors its past as we pursue our future. Being innovative is sometimes what it takes when the things we’ve done over and over haven’t worked.”

The planned Community Fund is one such innovation. The Fund will be seeded by 18 percent of lease revenues from the commercial facility and annual matching contributions from the city.

The Sankofa Group is also working with national partners to replicate the Detroit Strategic Neighborhood Fund and the Los Angeles Development Fund, both of which attracted millions in federal and philanthropic funding to complement city government investments.

The 23-member Sankofa Advisory Council is tasked with creating the governance framework for the new Community Fund.

“We thank our mayor, deputy mayor, and city Council for thinking outside of the box to create this dynamic venture,” said Rev. Watson Haynes, CEO of Pinellas County Urban League and member of the Sankofa Group. Haynes led the Sankofa Group’s presentation to City Council.

The agreement stipulates that the Sankofa Group can buy the property in five years with the purchase price determined by the community economic impacts generated by the operation. Impacts such as new business startups and financing secured for resident entrepreneurs will buy down the purchase price.

New Markets Tax Credits is one of the funding sources targeted by the group. If secured, funds will help cover tenant build-out costs and a menu of support and growth programs for businesses leasing space on the premises.

Pastor Louis Murphy also spoke on behalf of the Sankofa Group, saying, “Sankofa is about bringing back the vibrancy and diversity of places and spaces that once thrived on the Deuces. Our goal is to help build the same vital energy of downtown in the area some call Midtown, and we thank City leaders for supporting this innovative concept.”

Preliminary designs for the commercial complex and townhomes were unveiled on Oct. 5 at simultaneous virtual and in-person community meetings. “The community feedback has been very positive so far,” said Rob Gerdes, the city’s Neighborhood Affairs Director and City team leader for the project.

Another equity element of the project is the focus on people of color in the economic value chain. The design-build process is being led by City of St. Pete staff and HORUS Construction, in partnership with Howard & Associates, Volt-Air Consulting Engineers, and Master Consulting Engineers. The four firms are the first all-Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) team ever contracted for a city-funded construction project.

Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders sees the MBE focus as one of the most compelling facets of the project. She emphasized, “We as a city already collectively have the skills and talents needed to be successful in this and many other initiatives. I am grateful for the leadership of HORUS Construction and the many small businesses represented here today for bringing their capacity to the table to revitalize 22nd Street.”

The next steps for the project include design charrettes to be held at the Manhattan Casino, which is across the street from the future home of Sankofa on the Deuces. The City’s Senior Project Director – James Jackson, Jr., AIA – will organize the gatherings in partnership with City Urban Affairs Director Nikki Gaskin-Capehart.

To learn more, please reach Tahisia Scantling, Right Turn Realty and Sankofa Advisory Council member, at 800-867-5503 or; or visit

Sankofa Group Members

  • Gypsy C. Gallardo, One Community
  • Rev. Louis Murphy, Sr., Mt. Zion Progressive MB Church
  • Rev. Watson Haynes, II, Pinellas County Urban League
  • Albert Lee, Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation
  • Ernest Coney, CDC of Tampa

Sankofa Advisory Council Members

  1. April Harley, Inclusive St. Pete
  2. Attorney Tamara Felton, General Counsel to Sankofa Group, Felton-Howard Law
  3. Brother John Muhammad, Community Development & Training Center
  4. Charlotte Anderson, Pinellas County Urban League
  5. Elizabeth Siplin, EMPACT Solutions
  6. Esther Matthews, St. Petersburg NAACP
  7. Gloria Campbell, Advantage Insurance Solutions & Advantage Training Systems
  8. Gwendolyn Reese, African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg
  9. Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil, Collective Empowerment Group of the Tampa Bay Area
  10. Jabaar Edmond, Community Development & Training Center
  11. Jamison Carnegie, Mt. Zion Human Services
  12. Louis Murphy, Jr., One8Development
  13. Roy Binger, Binger Financial Services
  14. Roy & Izabelle James, James Insurance Solutions
  15. Shawntavia Turner, Turnkey Property Management
  16. Tahisia Scantling, Right Turn Realty
  17. Terri Lipsey Scott, Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum
  18. Veatrice Farrell, Deuces Live

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