Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Harlem, N.Y.-based restaurant Sylvia's comes to Manhattan Casino

ST. PETERSBURG — Almost seven years after its restoration, the historic Manhattan Casino has finally landed a restaurant.

Mayor Bill Foster announced a plan to bring Sylvia's Queen of Soul Food restaurant to the site at 642 22nd St. S.

The original Sylvia's Restaurant is famous for its Southern home cooking. It was established in 1962 in Harlem, N.Y., by Sylvia Woods.

Urban Development Solutions, led by Larry Newsome, which developed Tangerine Plaza Shopping Center, is behind bringing the restaurant to town.

"The exciting part is Sylvia Woods' son, Van, will play a role in bringing the restaurant here," said a jubilant Foster. "It's a major deal for the city."

The city spent about $2.8 million on the Manhattan Casino's renovation in 2005. Since then, it has struggled to find a suitable restaurant for the venue.

"I wanted it to be more than just another franchise," said Foster.

The historic, two-story building, built in 1925, has hosted jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, but closed as a dance hall in 1966.

In October, the city held a three-day grand reopening that included concerts by the Dizzy Gillespie Allstars, Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs and featured an open house, street festival and gospel brunch. But since then, the city has leased the top floor for receptions and parties.

In October, Foster turned down the lone bid, by Newsome, to run the Manhattan Casino. At the time, Foster said the package, which included Sylvia's, "fell short of the intended purpose of the project."

But on Friday afternoon, Foster was pleased with the project.

"This is so much better," he said. "The idea of putting a Sylvia's at the Manhattan Casino, a place with a deep, rich music history in St. Pete ... I can't think of a better marriage."

The plan is subject to City Council approval. Foster said it will be on the July 26 agenda.

Foster said the deal will also depend on UDS and Newsome's ability to secure financing.

If all goes as planned, Foster expects to seal the deal by the end of summer.

Newsome said landing Sylvia's has been a long, drawn-out process.

"We started talking to them about the same time we went into talks with the city. We just think that restaurant would work in that location," said Newsome, adding that construction should start later this year.

"We hope to have the restaurant open by late spring, early summer."

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