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Group explains its plan for inner city jobs

They had to bring extra chairs into the main meeting room of the Enoch Davis Center on Tuesday night so folks could hear the plans a committee of business owners, government officials and community activists have worked up to bring more businesses to St. Petersburg's inner city.

The audience of about 140 people greeted the plans with a mixture of enthusiasm and skepticism.

They applauded and cheered as Omali Yeshitela, founder of the National Democratic People's Uhuru Movement, said none of this would have happened if ordinary, poor African-Americans hadn't made it clear to the city's establishment that "we're not willing to live like this anymore."

They applauded Mayor David Fischer, too, for his commitment to bringing real economic development, not just jobs, to the inner city _ although some questioned whether the city government really has put enough of its own money into the effort.

They even applauded SouthTrust bank executive, Paul W. Bailey, when he said he was committed to lending more money to African-American entrepreneurs but cautioned that each project would have to be credit-worthy.

Still, several in the audience talked about getting a loan guarantee from the federal Small Business Administration but not finding any bank willing to lend the money.

Joanne Murray, a mortgage broker and credit counselor, complained about the years it can take to qualify some people for homeownership under the city's WIN program.

Fred Winters, who is trying to start a business at 19th Street and 18th Avenue S, said new zoning rules may not leave enough good land in the inner city for commercial development.

The main feature of the plan is a one-stop business development center, to be located on the site of the old Softwater Laundry at 22nd Street and Fifth Avenue S. The center will offer small business owners and would-be entrepreneurs strategic planning and marketing information.

The center also will try to broker partnerships and joint ventures between minority-owned businesses and larger businesses already thriving in the city.

Fischer also announced that he has hired Joseph Johnson Jr., an African-American native of St. Petersburg and Gibbs High School graduate, to be the city's new director of economic development and property management.

Johnson is currently the city manager of Coatesville, Pa., near Philadelphia. Before that he was was city manager of East Point, Ga., near Atlanta.