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City plans to revive the Manhattan Casino

Nearly $1-million in federal money is coming to help restore the landmark Manhattan Casino.

But even that fairly healthy sum, $900,000 to be precise, won't be enough to start the actual work on the 22nd Street S building, officials said last week.

It will take about $2-million to get the 78-year-old structure in shape for someone to take it over, said Ron Barton, the city's economic development director.

State grants, capital improvements money and the Penny for Pinellas sales tax are potential additional sources, he said.

"We are trying to cobble together a funding plan," Barton said. "Certainly, this (federal money) is one of the things we were trying to pursue. It is a significant amount that will help us, but we have to put together some more sources."

The money was part of the federal spending bill passed in February, said George Cretekos, aide to U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo.

It should hit city accounts by the end of the current fiscal year, Sept. 30, Cretekos said.

That is roughly when it is hoped work on the building can start, Barton said.

In addition, during the next few months, officials will get serious about finding the individuals or organizations to occupy the building.

The plan: After the city finishes the renovation, whoever moves in will take over the bills and the upkeep.

"We don't want to be in the business of running it," said Goliath Davis, deputy mayor for Midtown.

"Our first priority is to find someone with the means to support it when they take the property," he said.

Numerous possibilities have been chatted around, but nothing is definite.

Among the thoughts: Put one or more retail businesses in the ground floor, which would mirror part of the building's past when it was a community cornerstone from the 1930s until the late 1960s.

"All options are open," Barton said.

While businesses are preferred, very few possibilities are being summarily dismissed.

Officials, residents and entrepreneurs along 22nd Street S badly want something to complement the array of social and educational services that already are being developed along the street.

"If somebody wants to do something artistic, we would entertain that," Davis said.

It was the building's second floor that truly made the Manhattan a landmark. There, a generation of the most famous jazz, gospel and rhythm and blues performers packed the place for dances that became legendary in community lore.

The city designated the building a local historic site in 1994.

Because the dance floor brings the 12,000-square-foot building the most important part of its history and community identity, it will be spruced up to retain at least part of its original function, said Barton, the economic development director.

He called dance floor renovation a "cornerstone" of reviving the building, which the city purchased last year. It is on the edge of the "pilot project" planned for the Dome Industrial District.

The dance floor will help keep the building attractive to the community and be available for special events, Barton said.

Officials hope to determine the building's ultimate occupants soon because the building's use is likely to guide renovations, which will be extensive inside and out. Much of the interior will be gutted. The roof and foundation need work, and substantial improvements are planned outside.

Members of the community will have a chance to offer their thoughts, officials say.

But Davis cautioned the city government will have the final say about use.

"We don't want to create the impression the community will drive it when the community might not have the resources to support it," he said.

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