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St. Pete Deuces neighborhood may be in for a ‘renaissance.’ How to avoid gentrifying it?

Businesspeople and community leaders examined this question in a recent panel.
Traffic has been noticeably busier on The Deuces shown here at 22nd St and 9th Ave. S. in St. Petersburg. This view is facing south.
Traffic has been noticeably busier on The Deuces shown here at 22nd St and 9th Ave. S. in St. Petersburg. This view is facing south. [ BOYZELL HOSEY | TIMES | Times ]
Published Mar. 6
Updated Mar. 6

The historic 22nd Street South District of St. Petersburg, commonly known as the Deuces, is gearing up for a renaissance, said businesspeople and community leaders during a panel hosted by the Urban Land Institute.

But how can the area continue to be revitalized without gentrifying the historically Black neighborhood?

That question was at the heart of the discussion held Thursday — and one that’s not dissimilar to the city’s conversation surrounding the redevelopment of the site at Tropicana Field, too. The virtual conversation was part of a 21-day series on equitable development.

Related: Here are the 7 proposals to redevelop Tropicana Field site in St. Petersburg

Gypsy Gallardo, CEO of St. Petersburg’s One Community Plan, said that the Deuces had thrived as a center of Black business and culture during the time of segregation.

“The force of segregation created a captive consumer market that caused the Black economy of St. Pete to thrive, despite widespread poverty,” she said. “You could live, work, date, marry, die and be buried all by Black-owned businesses and Black-led institutions in St. Pete.”

But with the era of integration came massive displacements of Black residents caused by the construction of Interstate 275 and Tropicana Field, and that economic success was “hollowed out,” Gallardo said. Now, after years of promised development projects that never fully came to fruition, the area is “on an upswing,” she said.

A statue of Elder Jordan, Sr. peers over empty lots on 7th Ave and 22nd St. South in St. Petersburg on Friday, March 5, 2021.  Jordan was born a slave. After his freedom he donated the land on which the Jordan Park housing development now sits. He also built Jordan Dance Hall in 1925, now named the Manhattan Casino, pictured in the background.
A statue of Elder Jordan, Sr. peers over empty lots on 7th Ave and 22nd St. South in St. Petersburg on Friday, March 5, 2021. Jordan was born a slave. After his freedom he donated the land on which the Jordan Park housing development now sits. He also built Jordan Dance Hall in 1925, now named the Manhattan Casino, pictured in the background. [ BOYZELL HOSEY | TIMES | Times ]

Several major projects are happening at once: The Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum will be moving to a new spot on 22nd Street South. The Historic Manhattan Casino, which was once the city’s African-American dance hall and a famed music venue, will soon be turned into a food hall that supports local entrepreneurs. And around the nearby Warehouse Arts District, Miami developer Joe Furst has been buying up industrial land with the hopes of turning it into a thriving connector between the Deuces and Central Avenue.

Related: Is St. Pete really that progressive? Terri Lipsey Scott says maybe not.

Veatrice Farrell, executive director of The Deuces Live, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to reviving the neighborhood, said that developers who want to be more inclusive in their projects in Black neighborhoods should seek the input of many people who live in the area.

“There’s been a long-term strategy of going to the largest church, even if its five miles away,” she said. “There’s no one person that speaks for the community ... the community is really, physically where you are.”

Leigh Fletcher, a real estate lawyer and co-founder of the Rising Tide Innovation Center, an incubator that’s part of the Manhattan Casino revitalization efforts, said that when she began speaking with residents of the Deuces district, “what became clear is that the first issue with the Manhattan is needing to re-establish it as a place of inclusivity.”

The new concept will allow entrepreneurs with restaurant ideas to try out their concepts in the food hall. Some will eventually “graduate” to strike out on their own with the skills they’ve learned.

“The idea is the Manhattan Casino becomes a place of wonderful food ... but it also becomes an engine to kind of repopulate the storefronts of the 22nd Street corridor,” she said. It’s expected to open in about a month.

Signs promoting a new co-work space and other amenities opening soon on the lower level of the Historic Manhattan Casino are visible to passerby on Friday March 5, 2021.
Signs promoting a new co-work space and other amenities opening soon on the lower level of the Historic Manhattan Casino are visible to passerby on Friday March 5, 2021. [ BOYZELL HOSEY | TIMES | Times ]

Furst, the Miami developer and managing principal at Place Projects, said revitalizing lots he’s purchased around the Warehouse Arts District will not cause any displacement or erasure of history because they’re currently vacant.

“It’s not gentrification by definition,” he said.

Farrell said that even beyond some of the high-profile development projects, there are other, smaller efforts going on that she’s also excited about.

“There’s a lot of development that’s happening on 22nd Street you may not hear about it, because it’s not big developers,” she said. “While you may read about what’s going on at the Trop, next year start looking for all the articles on what’s going on on at Deuces Live.”