ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman said Sunday that the successive failures of Sweetbay and Walmart in Midtown suggested the city should rethink economic development in the neighborhood.
"We, as a community, may need to rethink Tangerine (Plaza)," Kriseman said. "We can't keep doing things the same way over and over again and expecting different results."
Krisman criticized Walmart's handling of its closing of the store at 22nd Street S and 18th Avenue S to several hundred people gathered in an auditorium at Fairmount Park Elementary School in Childs Park as part of his second annual Urban Affairs update.
The mayor said Midtown has been "failed too many times by corporate America" and expressed displeasure with the global retailer.
"I don't like that it closed. I don't like the way they told us. And I don't like that they're not taking care of their employees," Kriseman said.
Walmart spokesman Phillip Keene said Sunday that the company is open to discussing its employee placement work with Kriseman. "As we said at the time of our announcement, one of our highest priorities was supporting our associates through this process, and we meant it — in fact, many members of our store team have already said they would like to continue working at Walmart and we have been able to offer them other positions within the company," he said.
Kriseman said the store's scheduled closure in early March gives the city an opportunity to find a sustainable replacement.
"One of our top priorities will be to get this thing right once and for all," the mayor said.
After the brief remarks Sunday, Kriseman and other top city officials spent about 30 minutes answering questions from the standing-room-only crowd. Many of the questions addressed how the city planned to reverse a recent string of bad economic news for the city's predominantly black neighborhoods within the newly minted South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area.
Aside from Walmart's closing, Walgreens shuttered its Midtown store last year. Also last year, the city seized Sylvia's restaurant inside the historic Manhattan Casino after its owner fell behind on rent payments.
Kriseman pointed to the Skyway Marina District's new Publix and remodeled Burger King as nearby positive signs and promised to do his best to deliver a Lowe's or Home Depot to the city's southern neighborhoods.
"We are out every day working to try and bring those businesses to this community because y'all deserve that," Kriseman said.
But the mayor also said the city might concentrate on smaller, more local businesses to spur development like it did farther north on 22nd Street in Commerce Park.
In that neighborhood, the city has not yet made a decision on what will happen in the Manhattan Casino, which has been empty since last June after Sylvia's failure. Two bids are being evaluated. The city may choose to reopen the process or pick a winning bid, said Alan DeLisle, the city's top economic development official.
Kriseman also touched on the redevelopment of Tropicana Field in response to a question asking how it would benefit Midtown and Childs Park.
Although the Tampa Bay Rays haven't made a decision where to build a new ballpark, city planners have focused on how best to integrate the Trop's 85 acres with Campbell Park and other neighborhoods to the south of Interstate 175, Kriseman said.
Anything built will be intended to "flow into the community" and make sure Midtown "stays connected," the mayor said.
Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin praised Kriseman's desire to foster a business-friendly environment in the city.
"This mayor is all about cutting ribbons and cutting red tape," Tomalin said.
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