The Manhattan Casino compromise


Dear Editor:

A lot has been said and written about the mayor’s decision concerning the awarding of a new lease on the Manhattan Casino to the Callaloo Group. Needless to say, there is a significant percentage of people in Midtown who do not agree with that decision.

As I was sitting at the memorial service of Dr. Reggie Ligon last Saturday, I saw a very wide cross section of people from Midtown and other areas of south side St. Petersburg.  After I got home I thought about it even more.  For two hours, we all came together and put aside our differences to celebrate the life of a community stalwart.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could put aside our differences in this political race and come together for the greater common good of our community?

Most of us care about the Manhattan Casino but we are squabbling amongst ourselves about it because of the decision made by the mayor. Issues like the Manhattan Casino should transcend whom we are supporting for the mayor.  It should transcend who the mayor is or might be.

It has been a part of the history of Midtown long before any of the candidates running for mayor were born. In fact, it has been a part of Midtown before any living former mayor was born.

I would like to recommend a compromise that all factions in Midtown should be able to support.  I am suggesting that Midtown collectively request that the mayor and the city council table the lease of the Manhattan Casino until the current mayoral election is over.

Secondly, I would like to recommend that the city administration issue a new RFP on the Manhattan Casino, which properly lays out the requirements and expectations to each bidder, with respect to a plan, financing of the plan and personnel that will be responsible for implementation and carrying out of the plan as a minimum. The city should clearly lay out its financial participation in the project as well. These recommendations are made for the following reasons:

  1. It is very important that whoever operates the Manhattan Casino has the full support of the city administration. We will not know whom that will be until after the elections are over. That will give the operator the best chance of being successful in the long run.

  2. The process to select the Callaloo Group was clearly flawed. The mayor said he selected them because they had the best chance of surviving. Other than a hunch or a guess, I will bet a dollar to a donut that the mayor has very little to no empirical evidence upon which he based his assumption.  If he does, it was not shared with the public.

The Callaloo Group provided no evidence, other than an assertion, that they had sufficient funds on hand to undertake the project. Even if he does have that information and the Callaloo Group does have the financial wherewithal, that clearly is not, and should not be the deciding factor.

Walmart and Walgreens had virtually unlimited capital and could have operated in Midtown for the next 50 years had they chosen to do so.  Both of them are, however, gone.

I am calling on all parties in and around Midtown to support this compromise including and especially supporters of the mayor. There is no way most of you would support this decision if it were being proposed by Rick Baker or any of the other mayoral candidates. Having it proposed by Kriseman does not suddenly make it a good idea.

Just because you support the mayor does not mean that you have to support every decision that he makes. Just because he is tone deaf on this issue does not mean he is tone deaf on all other issues.  Just because he is tone deaf on this issue certainly does not mean that you have to be also.

Senator Rouson has shown the way. Please follow his example. I am suggesting that you put community over political allegiance on this one. This has far-reaching and long-term effects. Let’s come together as a community on this one issue.

There are actually benefits to all parties from this compromise. For example, it would give the Callaloo Group a chance to build support for their concept before they are required to become legally bound by a lease.  If they are counting on the residents of Midtown to be a part of their customer base, it would behoove them to increase community support for their concept.

If they want to move forward without increasing that support that is very telling also. That means they are not counting on the Midtown community being a part of their customer base.  If they are not and are counting on people outside the community to keep them profitable, that is the textbook definition of gentrification, which we should all oppose.

It would also be helpful to the Legacy Group because it would give them time to shore up their financial plan. There are many agencies out there that provide funding for these type projects.

If they are able to access it, it is typically a lot cheaper money than the kind that goes into typical market rate projects. Oftentimes it can be a lot more plentiful, as well.

By way of example, it took us three years but we raised over $6 million dollars when we renovated and opened Sylvia’s back in 2013.

It would be helpful to other interested parties as well. If the city put up a sufficient amount of funds to help the project, that might attract a significant number of additional participants into the process.  Their position that they have spent enough on the Manhattan Casino is ridiculous. The truth is they have spent very little.

The best long-term solution is what we should be striving for rather than who is willing to put up the most capital or who is willing to risk the most capital. The city has a role to play in this process, the same way it does at Sunken Gardens, the Coliseum, the Pier and a whole host of other projects on the north side of town.

It would be helpful to all candidates running for office to move this issue beyond the election cycle so that it can stop being the political football that it has become.

I am, therefore, calling on all of the everyday people, the churches, the pastors, the sororities, the fraternities, the political candidates and everyone else in Midtown to coalesce around this compromise.

It preserves the Manhattan Casino and truly gives it the best long-term chance for survival while also preserving its unique place within the Midtown community. If we cannot coalesce around the Manhattan Casino, is there anything that we can?

There is a hearing on the on Sept. 7 where the city council will address this issue. Please write letters, send emails or call your city council member and let them know that you support this compromise.  What happens with the Manhattan Casino is still in our collective hands.

Larry Newsome

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