L-R Kenny Irby, Jessica Eilerman, Kanika Tomalin and Mayor Rick Kriseman
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – The Kriseman administration held their annual report on the city’s progress in south St. Petersburg last Sunday, Jan. 29 inside of the cafeteria at Fairmount Park Elementary School to a standing room only crowd.
This year’s address was held in the Childs Park community, where Bro. John Muhammad is the president of the neighborhood association. He gave an update on what the association has done to help keep the areas 1,400 residents informed and safe.
Muhammad said the best way they combat “fake news” or “alternative facts” is by holding community forums with city officials such as the chief of police, the community intervention director, the director of education and the public works administrator, to name a few.
The association started Friday Nights Done Right where they partnered with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department over the summer to give the youth a safe place to go on Friday nights instead of “hanging out on the block or in the streets.”
Childs Park Neighborhood Association also started a book exchange for adults, and the Adopt-a-Block program, where volunteers clean up the neighborhood and help homeowners with minor repairs, has been going on every weekend since July.
“Our goal in the Childs Park neighborhood is to demonstrate that residents are taking and accepting responsibility for the community, and we are not waiting for government entities,” said Muhammad. “We believe we have the power to really change the reality in our community, and so we’re working to build it from the inside out.”
Mayor Rick Kriseman addressed the announcement of Walmart pulling out of Midtown.
“I don’t like that it closed, I don’t like the way they told us and I don’t like that they’re not taking care of their employees, but the City of St. Pete is moving forward with the purchase of Tangerine Plaza and one of our top priorities is to get this thing right once and for all,” stated the mayor.
He said that south St. Pete has been failed too many times by corporate America, and it’s time to “rethink Tangerine.”
The mayor then introduced city staff members and fielded questions from the audience.
One concerned citizen wanted to know what plans the city has to encourage larger businesses to come to St. Pete. The mayor focused on the Skyway Marina District and touted a nine-acre parcel of land that possibly will bring housing and new restaurants.
“We have had some good indicators that are happening in the Skyway Marina District where we are starting to see the investment of money from the business community…”
The mayor pointed out the thriving Chief’s Creole Café as an indication that they may focus on smaller businesses to spur development in Midtown.
“We are out every day working to try and bring those businesses to this community because y’all deserve that,” he said.
A social worker shared her concerns about the growing population of homeless families and the lack of housing to residents who have Section 8 housing vouchers.
Neighborhood Affairs Administrator Mike Dove said the city and the St. Petersburg Housing Authority are diligently working together to locate units for those in need. He mentioned that $1.5 million dollars have been set aside for providing “rapid rehousing.”
Kriseman said the city has made huge progress and have a target date where “we may functionally end veteran homelessness possibly by March of this year.”
Community activist Ray Tampa wanted to know if the Request for Proposal could be opened up again concerning the empty Manhattan Casino.
With two bids being evaluated, Economic Development Manager Alan DeLisle said the city could pick one as the winning bid or reopen the process.
“We are always open for a discussion about innovation and public or private partnerships,” said DeLisle.
Dr. Robert Wallace wanted to know if anything could be done about strict code enforcement rules that make it practically impossible to build or renovate if you are a small business owner.
Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin said anyone finding themselves in an uphill battle should not “thrive in frustration” and “give us a call.” She and the mayor have visited more than 1,000 businesses seeking out that type of information.
“We cannot manage what we don’t know about, but be assured if we know we will be on it. The mayor is all about cutting ribbons and cutting red tape,” she said.
When asked what he was doing to make the community more attractive for businesses to come to south St. Pete, the mayor said they are splitting up land parcels for smaller businesses, giving employers credit for hiring residents living in the CRA and working with partners on job training so when businesses open, there will be trained employees.
Police Chief Anthony Holloway spoke about the police department’s Second Chance program that allows youths to perform community service instead of entering the juvenile justice system. So far over 170 children have gone through the program with only 13 repeat offenders.
Theresa Jones received the Key to the City for her 40 years of dedication to the City of St. Petersburg both as an employee and as a concerned citizen.
“Theresa is a force of good. She makes our city better,” said the mayor.
I’m simply fulfilling my earthly assignment from God,” Jones said as she accepted her prestigious award.
Community Intervention Director Kenny Irby introduced by name members of the Cohort of Champions, the city’s new initiative that features educational, entrepreneurial training and enrichment programs for 100 young men from the ages of 12-24.
“We made a commitment to bring academic assistance to our young men. We made a commitment to help them with job readiness. We made a commitment to their enrichment and life skills, so they can see the world beyond south St. Petersburg and also see hope and restore hope in their lives,” stated Irby.