The struggle for the Manhattan Casino and its legacy continues

BY V. Anita Holifield, Contributor

ST. PETERSBURG – The St. Petersburg community is fortunate to have historically significant physical structures (renovated!) that are still standing. History needs to be preserved as a reverence and testament to the culture of its community.

The Apollo in Harlem, Hitsville USA in Detroit and the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville have managed to preserve the legacies of those physical spaces, demonstrating to the community that historic treasures are more than “just” buildings.

A non- profit organization, the Manhattan Casino Legacy Collaborative (MCLC), was formed in an effort to ensure the musical legacy of the physical structure was preserved. The nonprofit is structured so that the income from the restaurant funds the programming at the top of the building. This point was so important that it was detailed specifically in its proposal to the city.

The proposal calls for the upstairs of the Manhattan to be operated by Fred Johnson, Clearwater Jazz Hall of Fame inductee and prior programming administrator for the Straz Performing Art Center in Tampa. The downstairs will have several restaurants concepts with the largest one being a soul food restaurant titled Hattie B’s.

Shawandra Bell, community resident, local caterer and impetus for the formation of the Manhattan Casino Legacy Collaborative, assembled a top-notch team to support her efforts. This article highlights two of them, Gordon Davis and Fred Johnson.

Gordon Davis

Gordon Davis

Have you visited South Tampa’s restaurant row? Then you have seen the results of Davis. He is the son of former Florida State Senator Helen Gordon Davis and Al Davis, founder of a large wine distributor.

He was one of the originators of the vibrant dining and shopping district known as SoHo. He’s been a passionate supporter of small business in the Bay area and helped start the Tampa Independent Business Alliance in 2001. He also opened the Ceviche restaurant in downtown St. Petersburg.

Davis has become passionate about this project and the surrounding community and will serve as a mentor to Bell and volunteer board member of MCLC to ensure the restaurant, Hattie B’s, generates the requisite income to fund the operations at the Manhattan.

Fred Johnson

Fred Johnson

Fred Johnson is an accomplished writer, vocalist, percussionist and performing arts administrator. He is recognized internationally as one of the world’s greatest vocal jazz improvisers and has been honored as one of the world’s most passionate and versed chanters of sacred text.

He serves currently as the deputy executive director and global arts coordinator for Intersections International, a multi-faith, multi-cultural initiative of The Collegiate Churches of New York. Johnson has over 30 years’ experience in arts administration, production and arts institutional strategic planning.

Johnson is a graduate of the National Academy for the Performing Arts, New York, the master teachers program of the National Center for African American Artists, Boston and the master performers program of the National Mime Theatre, Boston. He has been a resident of St. Petersburg for 40 years.

He has extensively toured as a main stage performer and has performed with or as the opening act for such musical greats as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea, Herbie Mann, Nat Adderly, Joe Zawinul, David Sanborn, Richard Elliot, Ramsey Lewis, Aretha Franklin, Patti La Belle, Patti Austin, George Benson, BB King and Bashia.

Johnson has presented music and inspirational programs in association with Dr. Deepak Chopra, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Dr. Maya Angelou, Dr. Michael Beckwith, Jack Canfield, Marianne Williamson and has written and directed 19 stage productions in New York, Boston, San Diego and Tampa.

He has been inducted into the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Hall of Fame and has been featured at The Jazz Holiday 13 times. He has toured the world as an ambassador for the importance of arts in education and as a global bridge to peace and greater understanding between the nations of the world.

These are the individuals associated with the proposal that wasn’t selected by the mayor. City council, however, makes the final decision on what happens to the building. If you have an opinion to share, please note the city council meeting where this will be discussed is on Monday, Nov. 20 at 3 p.m. There is also a prayer vigil scheduled this Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Manhattan.

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