ST. PETERSBURG — The South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment area is Mayor Rick Kriseman's ambitious proposition for the mostly poor, majority black neighborhoods south of Central Avenue.
In its early stages, the special district is expected to produce nearly $500,000 this year.
In a major departure from more than 30 years of previous redevelopment efforts, Kriseman intends to spend that cash on programs for small businesses and job creation instead of brick-and- mortar projects.
"Investing in people and not just places is really critical," Kriseman told a CRA citizen advisory committee Tuesday. "Things have a history of being done the same way, over and over again, and then we scratch our heads and say, 'Why are they the same?'"
But some residents worry that those programs — intended to spend increases in property values as the CRA develops — is really a Trojan horse for gentrification. They suspect a city strategy to move out poor and working-class black people from Midtown, Childs Park and other neighborhoods to make room for more affluent newcomers.
These concerns are amplified by local NAACP chapter president Maria Scruggs, who says the CRA is a boondoogle that will steer money to City Hall favorites.
"It's not intended to benefit the people who live here," said Scruggs.
On Thursday, the City Council will review CRA programs on job creation, capital investment and improving neighborhood housing and small businesses.
Council member Karl Nurse, a leader in creating the CRA, said Scruggs is "completely wrong."
The subject of this dispute is an area with boundaries from Fourth Street to 49th Street and from Second Avenue N to 30th Avenue S. About 14 percent of the city's population — roughly 34,000 people — live there. Nearly a third of the population falls below the poverty line.
Nurse said only part of Roser Park has partially gentrified over three decades of a dozen redevelopment efforts, he said. The CRA remains littered with hundreds of boarded-up homes and spackled with empty lots.
"We have a lot of slack in this rope," Nurse said.
Scruggs said the fact that many of the programs require applicants to put up some of their own money before accessing tax-increment financing funds, which effectively prices most CRA residents out.
Rick Smith, the city's redevelopment coordinator, said the TIF programs will be marketed primarily to CRA residents. And successful applicants who sign agreements with the city can leverage that for bank loans to raise the necessary money.
Still, Smith said, the fears of some residents are understandable. The leveling of the Gas Plant neighborhood for Tropicana Field in the 1980s remains a fresh wound for many, he said.
As a further safeguard, the plan will prevent rent hikes or rapid changes in demographics, Smith said.