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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Petersburg City Council approves South St. Pete TIF programs



The St. Petersburg City Council unanimously approved the first concrete steps to alleviate poverty in Midtown and other southern neighborhoods Thursday.

The nearly two-hour debate came after the local NAACP president urged the council to scrap the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area plan and related programs, which would distribute nearly $500,000 over a 7.5-square-mile area where 34,000 people live. About 1/3 of them live in poverty.

The CRA's tax-increment financing programs are designed to funnel money into affordable housing, commercial improvements and workforce training.

Mayor Rick Kriseman has said his plan will focus on lifting people out of poverty instead of more traditional efforts to improve infrastructure.

Council member Lisa Wheeler-Brown said the CRA's citizen advisory committee, which also approved the plan, provides accountability.

"So that people who have their own agenda will not be able to pocket what is really the community's. I have lived here my whole life and it is no secret what I'm saying," Wheeler-Brown said.

Several residents, including the NAACP's Maria Scruggs, said the TIF programs wouldn't benefit the community, but outside developers and City Hall allies.

But other residents, including the chairman of the CRA's citizen advisory committee, said the plan had been carefully vetted and enjoyed broad community support.

"No such thing as a perfect plan, it just doesn’t exist," said Ricardo Davis, the advisory committee's chairman. "This plan at the end of the day will be evaluated on its ability to put people to work. Period."

Theresa Jones, another advisory committee member, said misinformation about the plan had been prevalent on social media,stoking fears and spreading confusion. She asked that future meetings of the advisory committee be televised.

They would be, said Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin. The next meeting is in April.

Opponents of the plan had argued that not enough effort had been made to reach out to CRA residents, a point disputed by city staff, which said a public education campaign had been underway for at least two years. 

"To pretend that this is made out of thin air is just a fantasy," said council member Karl Nurse. 

The city will begin accepting grant applications on a first-come, first-served basis in May. City staff will conduct workshops within the CRA to spread the word about the funding.

And that money will be targeted at CRA residents, not outside developers intent on gentrifying Midtown, said Rick Smith, the city's redevelopment coordinator and point person for the CRA's implementation.

"We are very sensitive to the issue of dislocating neighborhood residents," Smtih said. The goal, he said, is that "locally-grown business hire local residents.





[Last modified: Thursday, February 4, 2016 3:33pm]


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