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Back to square one: Mayor Rick Kriseman rejects proposals for historic Manhattan Casino

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman rejected two proposals seeking to turn the iconic Manhattan Casino into soul-food restaurants. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman rejected two proposals seeking to turn the iconic Manhattan Casino into soul-food restaurants. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]

ST. PETERSBURG — The historic Manhattan Casino has sat empty for nearly a year.

And it will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future now that Mayor Rick Kriseman has rejected two proposals to turn the page on the iconic two-story structure which once hosted Ray Charles, Nat King Cole and Cab Calloway.

The city took over the property in June, after former tenant Larry Newsome struggled to establish a Florida outpost for the Harlem soul food mecca Sylvia's and fell behind in rent. Once the city's foreclosure was upheld in court in October, officials sought formal proposals for the space.

Only two groups submitted bids. One group, which included food truck operator Heavy's, pitched an idea to combine a soul-food restaurant and a restaurant "incubator" to help nurture culinary start-ups. That proposal also included using the second story as an event space for music and other entertainment.

The other idea, by a Gulfport restaurateur who also works with special-needs students, was a soul-food restaurant that would employ at-risk and disabled young people as workers, and have a nightclub upstairs.

Neither proposal appeared feasible to the mayor, his aides told community residents and city council members last week.

Kriseman said Tuesday he just didn't want to set either group up for failure.

"To me, it was important to look for something that was sustainable in the long term," he said.

The city reserves the right to issue another formal request for proposals, city officials said, but will also seek input from individuals outside of any formal bidding framework.

So far, the discussions with local businesses have been informal and preliminary, Kriseman said.

Last fall, Terri Lipsey Scott, director of the Carter G. Woodson Museum, expressed interest expanding the museum into the space at 642 22nd St. S.

But Kriseman said that wasn't in his plans. The city is finalizing an agreement to keep the Woodson museum in its current location at 2240 9th Ave. S.

"We haven't discussed that at all," the mayor said.

Lipsey Scott couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. Her cellphone's voice mailbox was full.

The city has struggled to rent out the Manhattan for events because all the furniture and kitchen equipment has been removed.

That was a hurdle for George Gomillion, owner of Gulfport soul-food restaurant George's Grill, who submitted one of the bids.

"I guess the mayor wants someone with enough money so they could do it without the city's help," Gomillion said. "It would have been different if that kitchen equipment was still there. That would have cost at least $100,000 to replace. But it's his decision."

Kendrick Scott, owner of Heavy's Soul Food truck, said the mayor called to tell him that he didn't want to set his popular business, founded in 2014, up for failure in a larger, higher-profile space.

"I respect that," Scott said. "It means a lot to me that he cared enough to do it."

Council member Steve Kornell said he wanted to see a local business set up shop at the Manhattan. He urged the mayor to reconsider the Carter G. Woodson option at the council's April 6 meeting.

"I'd really like to see something more organic go in there," Kornell said.

Kriseman said he didn't know when a solution for the Manhattan would be found, but he wants to proceed deliberately.

"As much as I'd like to snap my fingers and get something in there tomorrow, I want to take a little bit more time and get it right," Kriseman said.

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727)893-8459. [email protected]

Back to square one: Mayor Rick Kriseman rejects proposals for historic Manhattan Casino 04/12/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 12, 2017 5:33am]
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