ST. PETERSBURG — Elected officials and members of the community broke ground this afternoon on Sylvia's, the restaurant to be housed in Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino.
More than 40 people gathered outdoors at the restored 1925 event space, where Sylvia's Queen of Soul Food Restaurant — famous for its Harlem location — is expected to open this October. Several people spoke on behalf of the new restaurant, including Mayor Bill Foster, City Council members, representatives from Sylvia's in New York and Larry Newsome, president of Urban Development Solutions, the company leading the project intended to revitalize Midtown.
Newsome and Urban Development Solutions have endured criticism for last-minute changes to the 50-year lease approved by City Council a year ago, as well as significant financial issues.
"It's been a long, hard slog, but we're here, and we're doing this, and we're going to make this happen," Newsome said.
After the news conference, Newsome said he does not anticipate any major changes to the agreement moving forward.
"When you get to construction and stuff like that, anything that can happen could require (an amendment)," he said.
Despite Newsome's problems, Foster said he is confident the project will succeed because Sylvia's has such a strong brand. Additionally, taxpayers are at no risk because Newsome and his investors are putting forth the capital.
Urban Development Solutions also owns Tangerine Plaza, where the area's only grocery store closed in February. The company has yet to find a replacement.
In 2005, the city spent $2.8 million to refurbish the Manhattan Casino, which hosted famous jazz musicians. Newsome is also renovating the casino's event space, a phase he hopes to complete in early July.
Historically, residents have had to leave Midtown to find a restaurant, City Council member Wengay Newton said during the news conference.
"The people down here, they deserve no less," he said.
Tren'ness Woods-Black, granddaughter of the restaurant's original owners, spoke about the positive effect Sylvia's has had on Harlem in its 50 years.
"To find out that St. Petersburg shares that same vision and community is something that just warms my heart," she said.
This will be the first Sylvia's restaurant outside of Harlem. Newsome is also developing a second franchise in Fort Myers.
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