Making a case Thursday for more investments in blighted areas, Sen. Bill Nelson pointed to a creole restaurant in south St. Petersburg as an example of the untapped potential of depressed neighborhoods.
From the Senate floor, Nelson told the story of Chief's Creole Cafe, a restaurant just south of Interstate 275 off 22nd Street S opened in 2014 by Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy to strong reviews. The couple had to tap into their retirement savings because banks and investors wouldn't finance a project in that part of the city, Nelson said.
The Brayboys have been a success, but the government should help more small businesses revitalize struggling communities, Nelson said.
"This is a great story of stubborn determination, triumphing over fear and adversity and rejection after rejection," the Democrat said. "But this type of story is few and far between in too many parts of Florida and across the country."
Since losing his re-election bid to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Nelson has made a series of speeches challenging his colleagues to address problems like climate change and the growing incivility in the World's Greatest Deliberative Body.
On Thursday, Nelson called for the next Congress to create more incentives for investments in low-income areas where banks won't.
Nelson previously sponsored legislation that would give a tax credit to businesses that renovate a building that has sat vacant for at least two years. That would be a much more effective way to build the middle class than the tax cut Congress passed last year, Nelson said, which largely benefits corporations and high-earners.
"That is what we ought to be doing not digging something out from the eighties and calling it something new," Nelson said.
Here are Nelson's full remarks:
Mr. President, I want to talk about trickle-down economics and give you an example of why it doesn't work, particularly in parts of the country that have long been neglected by the power structures in those communities.
Let's take, for example, south Saint Petersburg, Florida. Saint Petersburg is a part of Pinellas county. It's one of our major cities in Florida. It's at the tip of a peninsula that wraps around Tampa Bay.
South St. Pete is riddled with poverty. According to the census bureau, 16.4% of the people who live there live there below the federal poverty line. That's 6.7% of which have jobs but they still live in poverty. Now there's something wrong with that. If you have a job, you shouldn't be living in poverty.
And what we know of a survey by United Way, that 44% of people in Florida in this survey taken in 2016, 44% of the people in Florida, almost half, do not make, earn enough money to make ends meet. That means they don't have enough money for food, for housing, for health care, for transportation, and for child care. Essentials for someone who is working to be able to have enough to live day to day.
So there's something wrong with this. And we find people in pockets all across this country, but I want to give you an example in Florida of south St. Petersburg, and many there not only don't make enough to make ends meet — of course that means that you've got to have both spouses working. 44% of the people do not have an economic situation to make ends meet. And so what do they do to compensate? They work two, three jobs in order to compensate.
So in South St. Petersburg, there are a lot of people that don't even have a job, and it's not because they don't want jobs. It's because a lot of the established financial power, including banks and corporations and big investors see areas that are depressed like this one. They see it as a lost cause. They don't believe it has the economic potential to support new business.
I want to tell you a great success story, and that's what a husband and wife team, Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy found out when they tried to open a restaurant on 22nd Street in South St. Pete, an economically depressed part of the town that was long overlooked by those at the top of the economic ladder. I want to show you a picture of them. This is the Brayboys. And in fact the building the Brayboys wanted to use for their restaurant previously sat idle for 35 years. It was basically wasting away. And when the Brayboys went looking for a loan to buy the building, every lender that they went to said no, it's to do depressed. It sat vacant for 35 years. Everywhere they went, they heard the same thing. The community won't be able to bring in enough business, and you won't be able to get enough customers from outside the community to visit that area. So most people would have given up after receiving so many noes, or given in to the pressure to put the restaurant in a more acceptable part of town. But like most people in South St. Pete, the Brayboys are a different cut because they are not easily deterred.
If there's one thing you should know about the people of south St. Pete, it's this: Don't test their resolve because you're in for a surprise.
Undeterred, the Brayboys, Mr. and Mrs. Brayboy, took out money out of their 401(k) accounts and poured all of their life savings into buying that hulk of a building on 22nd street. And after gutting the inside and pouring in their blood, sweat, and tears into remodeling the property, Chief's Creole Cafe opened in November of 2014 and has been going strong ever since, creating jobs and changing the way people think about South St. Pete. And this is how the restaurant looks today.
Despite the warnings of all those doubtful lenders, they have been able to sustain the business by attracting both locals and customers from outside of the area of south St. Pete. Does that not look like something that is a well-run, going, successful business? And so the old saying stands, if you build it, and if you really try, they will come. And now this is a great story of stubborn determination, triumphing over fear and adversity and rejection after rejection.
But this type of story is few and far between in too many parts of Florida and across the country. So let me show you another picture. This is the three oaks plaza. The three oaks plaza which used to be a location of a dollar tree store, but the store closed last year.
This is how it used to look. Now this is how it looks. The closing of the dollar tree store came on the heels of the closing of the local Walmart nearby. Unfortunately this is all too common in south St. Pete and too many other parts of problem. The problem isn't new, but we need a new way to think about this.
We need economic policies that rely less on outside investors and outside companies to come in and remake the image of the area and to rely instead, what we need to do is more on empowering local residents to create their own businesses. They're more likely to keep profits in the community, creating a more sustainable loop of economic activity.
And that's what I want to recommend, that this senate and future senates do with legislation, take an example of legislation that I introduced earlier this year called the economic modernization act. That bill does a lot of things, but one key thing it does is to create a new tax break for local businesses that move into buildings that long have sat idle and vacant.
And under a piece of legislation such as that, if a business moves into a building that has been vacant for two or more years, and renovates the property, the business would be able to get a tax dukes — deduction worth many, many more times what it put into it. And any profits earned at the property for the first three years in that building would be a tax deduction. The deduction would be capped. It could be in legislation, at 50% of the business' wages to make sure that the employees are also getting a benefit. And the more the business pays its employees, the more the business saves with that tax deduction. And, therefore, saves in taxes. Simply put, the bill will make it easier for local entrepreneurs to rebuild their community, helping turn more places like this into this. Helping turn more places like this into this.
That is what we ought to be doing not digging something out from the eighties and calling it something new. What my colleagues did last year with the tax bill we traded trillions to the national debt and made it easier for big corporations to gain the tax system to put social security medicare, Medicaid, infrastructure and all sorts of priorities at risk because the entire national debt is run-up to trillion dollars over a ten year period and where is the money to do all of these other priorities like medicaid or medicare or infrastructure, social security?
When big corporations see places they don't necessarily see the financial opportunity for what they saw into a growing concern. Because sometimes it just goes over their head and they miss the opportunity. So to incentivize the local people to be able to revitalize the community to be economically successful, we need to create more stories like this successful story. We need to make it easier for locals to take over abandoned buildings to turn them into new thriving businesses that value people and employ the local residents. And we need to encourage local communities which understand their own needs to be financially successful to have an opportunity to do that.
And despite what others say despite a tax bill that raises the national debt by $2 trillion, wouldn't you believe if we could do this all over America, it would help so much. The economic underpinnings of the way that it should be. We need to do more to lift up those at the bottom and help them help themselves.
I hope our colleagues will agree and consider legislation like this in the future. Thank you Mr. President. I yield the floor.