Troubling decision


Dear Editor:

August 18, 2017, will be a day that should long be remembered within the Midtown community. That is the day the current city administration announced their decision to hand over the Manhattan Casino to a group of outside investors.

This can be seen in no other way than a gentrification project. Just like the Commerce Park across the street, there were groups of investors from the local community that made proposals to keep ownership and operation within the community.

Just like that project, the mayor decided to go with a non-local group. If this administration has demonstrated anything, it is that they have no interest whatsoever in working with minorities in Midtown on anything of any significance.

If you need a $10,000 grant or an appointment to a non-paying board, this mayor is your man. If you need anything of more significance, it is not going to happen.

The mayor was quoted in the Tampa Bay Times as saying: “The city must stop turning to those who offer quick fixes, have little experience, or insufficient capital.” If that is the winning philosophy, let’s apply that to two businesses that closed on his watch.

Walmart is the largest retailer in the world. They have decades of experience operating grocery stores and have virtually unlimited capital. Walgreens is one of the largest pharmacies in the country and they too have decades of experience and virtually unlimited capital. In spite of those winning attributes, they both closed.

That is an indication that there are more issues going on in Midtown that those winning attributes could not overcome.  As this administration has no programs that identify or deal with any of those other issues, it is safe to say they are not aware of what those issues are.

The Times stated that at an Aug. 9 mayoral forum the mayor said, “The most important aspect of a successful bid will be one that honors the history of the community.”  After the selection was made, the Times quoted the mayor as stating that he chose the Callaloo Groups’ concept over the three other proposals because of its track record in the restaurant industry.

I guess the mayor must have changed his mind over the ensuing week. Clearly, the proposal that best honored the history of the community was not chosen. The one thing that the mayor says he relied upon in his decision making was the least reliable when it comes to Midtown.  Prior track record means virtually nothing in Midtown.  If it did, the Walmart and Walgreens would still be operating there.

The mayor has proposed carving out areas in the city that would favor small, independent retailers to the exclusion of larger chain type vendors. There is little doubt that the vendors that he wishes to exclude have vastly more assets, experience and financial strength than the local independents he is championing. I guess the financial strength and experience issues only apply to Midtown.

The selection process that was utilized by this administration is familiar. It is often used when dealing with Midtown.  An RFP will go out.  When the responses come back, they will be rejected and then the administration will begin negotiating with favored vendors until they get a deal that they like.

They will then announce that they are entertaining an offer and will extend an offer to other interested parties to participate. The favored vendor is selected in virtually every instance. The fix was in on this deal as soon as it was announced that they had negotiated a deal with a favored vendor. There was very little chance that anyone else was going to be selected.

A question that needs to be asked is why this administration decided to take this action at this time? Was the community screaming for a decision to be made now?  If this decision was made at this time, was it likely to help the mayor in his re-election bid, or not?

There is little indication that this decision was helpful to the mayor’s re-election bid. There was no demand being made from the community that this decision be rushed. That this unpopular decision is being made right now, at this time, speaks volumes about the lack of respect or sensitivity that this mayor has for this community.

The mayor said the most important thing was to make the right decision. It is difficult to understand the objective standards utilized to determine what was the “right “decision is.

Although it is impossible to know the thinking of this administration on this issue, it sure seems to fit within the decision matrix that it has used on most other decisions concerning Midtown.  If it is small and inconsequential, let’s go with community folks. If it is large and consequential, let’s go with the monied folks from outside the community.

The deputy mayor published a “note” in which she said selecting the outside interest was progress. No, it is not progress. It is the same tried and true process that has been going on in Midtown for the last 40 or more years.

It is the same process that allowed the $200 million to be spent on Midtown, with very little to show for it since 1999 that the Times article chronicled. When the local businesses and residents are not allowed to participate in the process, you have a lot of money spent that benefits the outsiders who were hired to develop the projects, and the local community remains impoverished.

This is not progress. This is nothing more than the same soft form of racism that has been practiced for the last 50 years, the racism of low expectations. If anything of significance is done in the black community it must be done for them, rather than with them.

Even if the gentrification projects started by this administration are successful, the benefits will accrue primarily to those outside the Midtown community. That is not progress.  That is the same old, same old.

There is not one single project that this administration can point to that they can say they are working on with minorities in Midtown of any significance. If that is an incorrect statement, point out the project.

There is a local group that has been trying to get this administration to work on a set-aside program for minority contractors for three years. For three years they have been stonewalled.

A community activist recently said Kriseman appears to be big on symbolism and short on substance. When it comes to Midtown, that is a perfect description of his operating style.

There was a proposal from a group called the Manhattan Casino Legacy Collaborative (MCLC).  Although there were many moving parts, that proposal could clearly have been turned into a workable solution particularly with financial resources committed by the city.

If the city had given this group the months that it gave the Callaloo Group to put a deal together, rather than the 30 days that it received, in all likelihood a much tighter deal would have been received. For whatever reason, the city decided that it did not want to commit any additional resources to the Manhattan Casino, although they like to point to its historical significance.

Some point to the narrative that has been repeatedly told by the Tampa Bay Times that the city invested millions of dollars into the Manhattan Casino. The truth is that virtually all of the money that the city spent on the Manhattan Casino came from a grant from the federal government.

The truth is that the city has spent very little “city” money on the Manhattan Casino. The vast majority of funds spent on its renovation were spent by Urban Development Solutions Inc.

There is absolutely nothing better about the proposal that they accepted over the MCLC proposal that they rejected other than money.  As the MCLC proposal had plans to raise over $800,000, the city partnering with them to backstop a half million dollars would have been small change and would have allowed a proposal that was superior to move forward.

The city has a ready source of funds that could have been utilized to make the proposal financially viable. The existing Midtown CRA. There is no good reason for making this poor decision.

The most significant projects that have been announced by the city in Midtown are a skate park and a light show. If you are wondering about the continued decline of Midtown and the number of gentrification projects started there, you have to look no further than the current administration for the source.

Larry Newsome

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