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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Sylvia's now back in city's hands

The doors have been locked and chained since Monday. The last meal has been served at Sylvia's --at least for now.

Meanwhile the soul food restaurant's operator vowed to continue to fight on in the courts. 

 "I'm disappointed on so many levels. The city looked for years for someone. Everybody said no until I came along," said Larry Newsome. "They did all they could do to close us."

The city's real estate director, Bruce Grimes, said the city reluctantly proceeded with the eviction and will soon seek new tenants, probably to operate another restaurant.

Last week, a Pinellas Circuit judge awarded the city of St. Petersburg possession of the restaurant, which occupies the ground floor of the city-owned Manhattan Casino, a historically significant landmark for the city's black community.

Sylvia's opened to great fanfare in November 2013.  Newsome offered soul food classics and a promise of a southern outpost for the famed Harlem eatery. But that partnership never materialized and the crowds dwindled.

By July 2015, Newsome had stopped paying rent. By the end of the year, the city started to move to evict his business. 

The city is still seeking damages from Newsome. He has paid about $42,000 to the court, but the city wants at least $74,000 in unpaid property taxes, said assistant city attorney Heather K. Judd.

Right now, city officials are conducting an inventory of the restaurant's contents, she said. 

The city poured about $3 million into the building in hopes of igniting economic activity in the poor Midtown neighborhood. 

Sylvia's didn't deliver on that promise, but signs of a turnaround for Midtown are visible---right across the street.

Earlier this year, Mayor Rick Kriseman awarded leases to a high-end motorcycle dealership and service center and a marina parts company on a 14-acre tract across the street from Sylvia's, 642 22nd St. S. That development will also have retail and housing components.

One of Newsome's attorneys, Tamara Felton-Howard, said that the city didn't list all of Newsome's business entities in its suit, including the actual operating entity. That will be the basis of their appeal, she said.

Unless they can reach an agreement with the city, she said.

"We remain hopeful that we can work something out with the city," Felton-Howard said.


[Last modified: Friday, July 1, 2016 2:38pm]


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