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22nd Street S tells why it can't wait

A group representing a once-thriving black business district makes its case for economic aid now, not later.

The people boosting 22nd Street S made it clear Monday night they are going all-out to win special attention from the state.

They also made clear how deeply they care for the thoroughfare that was the black community's main business district during St. Petersburg's segregation era.

Cheers and long applause greeted author Rosalie Peck's reading of her poem celebrating the street's olden days.

Meeting at Perkins Elementary Center for the Arts and International Studies, the 22nd Street S Redevelopment Corp. heard president Annette Howard say a state official recently asked if the group would be willing to wait a year to win a Florida Main Street designation.

Howard's response: Absolutely not.

She referred to the Main Street program that brings recognition, state expertise and a little money to traditional business districts that have declined over the years but are attempting comebacks.

The 22nd Street group applied last year for the Main Street designation but was not one of four Florida communities so named. Neither was the Grand Central District, whose boosters a few blocks north also are reapplying for the honor.

This year, 22nd Street leaders don't want delays.

"Last year, we said it could be (both) 22nd Street and (Grand Central)," Howard said. "Last year we didn't think about it as competition.

"We are different. We are special, the things we bring together. (The official) asked me, would we be willing to wait? I said, "No ma'am. We will not. We've been there and done that. May the best man win.' "

Howard pointed out two reasons why 22nd Street missed out on the Main Street label last year: no Main Street manager and no money in the redevelopment group's treasury.

Interviews for the manager's job will start soon, Howard said, and the organization has $100,000, thanks to $50,000 from city government and a $50,000 Florida A&M grant earmarked to fix up a boarded, empty building.

Monday night's meeting celebrated those advances. There also was talk about some other rehabilitation projects expected to start soon. Then, in a group effort, the organization began working on the 2001 Main Street application.

It also heard encouraging news about the Hope VI project, which is redeveloping Jordan Park, the housing that for years stood next to 22nd Street and helped fuel its economy.

Project manager Parisrice Robinson said the first revamped "senior village" units should be ready by late April, with the first family units available in August.

But the evening was not all about business.

Peck, a St. Petersburg native who attended Gibbs High School, co-authored Learning to Say Goodbye: Dealing with Death and Dying in 1987. But poetry is one of her passions, and she published a book of verse this year.

Remembering 22nd Street: The Way We Were recalls the entertainers, restaurants and businesses on the old thoroughfare.

"Like an oak with taproots, it may refuse to die," Peck read, her audience riveted to each word.

When the former Ms. Senior Florida finished, several leaped up to applaud.

Howard said she had had a preview of the poem's emotional impact.

"When she read it to me, all of you who know me know I'm nothing but a bottle of water," Howard said.