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Blight fight enters a holding pattern

The dilapidated houses that Darryl Rouson's non-profit agency acquired have been demolished. Now, Rouson says he and a business partner are in a holding pattern, stalled by neighbors leery of their plans and blocked by neighboring landowners wanting top dollar for their properties.

"We don't know what we're going to do yet. We've got a bunch of hurdles to jump over," Rouson said. They entertained the possibility of building single-family homes, but they need more property for that. "We're in a limbo period right now."

Rouson and Larry Newsome, president and CEO of Aracle Homes, own 11 lots in the neighborhood that sits between 18th Avenue S and Queensboro Avenue just east of 22nd Street S. There are another seven or eight lots that the team would like to buy.

But "we're actually looking at alternatives at what we can do with the site without their property," Newsome said.

"We're black people trying to do something in that particular part of town. There's not a lot of money to be made there from a pure speculative standpoint. If money was the only motive, we'd look elsewhere," said Newsome, who teamed up with Rouson because he wanted to do work that also would have a social benefit.

When Rouson, who grew up in St. Petersburg and later battled drug and alcohol addictions, returned to the city in 1998 to rebuild his legal career, he promised to fight blight in neighborhoods. The Community Benefit Network acquired eight buildings as part of a lawsuit settlement and bought another house. He hoped to either remodel an existing house or erect a new one for meetings for alcohol and drug abusers.

Those meetings took place for a few weeks until the buildings were demolished.

Meanwhile, Rouson has moved forward in other areas of community activism. Last month, he was elected president of the St. Petersburg NAACP branch, unseating it president of 21 years.