Food hall coming to St. Petersburg’s historic Manhattan Casino

The struggling Callaloo Group is retooling its vision of the famed venue, creating a new restaurant experience and incubator space.
The Historic Manhattan Casino will once again have its business model reimagined.
The Historic Manhattan Casino will once again have its business model reimagined.
Published Aug. 6, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — The Historic Manhattan Casino, the two-story building on 22nd Street S that was once the city’s African American dance hall and a famed music venue, is again having its business model re-imagined.

The building will now host a food hall and coworking space.

City Council on Thursday approved an amendment to the lease at the city-owned site, which has hosted the likes of James Brown, Louis Armstrong and a cadre of other renowned African American musicians. Right now, the building features Floribbean restaurant Callaloo and is otherwise used as an event space.

The Callaloo Group, which rents the building, envisions a “24/7 community hub of food, music, art and culture by providing an affordable coworking, multi-concept food hall and bar, multi-use event space for business meetings, special events, nighttime entertainment and neighborhood social gatherings,” according to city documents.

There will be about six restaurants within the hall, which will share a commissary kitchen. The group also partnered with Rising Tide Innovation Center, a coworking and incubator company in St. Petersburg. The goal is to create a not-for-profit incubator that will help food startups owned by residents of the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area expand into the food hall or their own brick and mortar operations.

The pivot comes as the Callaloo Group has struggled to hit revenue targets. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver and Callaloo Group majority owner Vincent Jackson led the pitch to City Council, acknowledging the struggles the group has faced.

“We have to make decisions, and we have to decide if we’re going to hand the keys over and fight the tide and keep it rolling, and readjust, and reposition,” he said. “And what we’ve done is reposition.”

The city spent $2.8 million in 2005 to restore the Manhattan, built in 1925 as the Jordan Dance Hall, which sits in the segregation-era African-American entertainment and business district known as the Deuces. Sylvia’s Soul Food restaurant, which opened in the space in 2013, was evicted in 2016 for not paying rent. The Callaloo Group took over in 2017 and is in the middle of a five-year lease.

Aside from tweaking the Callaloo Group’s lease to allow for the food hall concept, the other provisions remain the same. Callaloo will still pay the city $40,000 in annual rent, plus a modest percentage of revenue once sales hit $1.9 million. The group must employ at least 25 people and can earn back some of the money by hiring residents of the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area. And Callaloo is supposed to consider employees for ownership of new restaurant concepts and work to enroll employees in a culinary school program. The Group has struggled with some of those benchmarks in the past.

Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, whose district includes the Manhattan, wanted to require Callaloo to include a certain number of businesses in the food hall that are owned by residents within the community redevelopment area. She received pushback first from Jackson, who asked what happens if Callaloo can’t find enough viable tenants from within the community, then from Rising Tide co-founder Leigh Fletcher, who said the incubator would be the pipeline to the food hall.

“I would ask for the patience to use the food hall to facilitate people’s growth without putting arbitrary caps on who goes in at what time,” Fletcher said.

The proposal faced additional pushback from Council member Amy Foster, who said the goals were similar to previous goals left unachieved. And Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders lamented not being informed of the proposal sooner.

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Council member Robert Blackmon defended the proposal as a good business decision for the city.

The measure ultimately passed 5-3, with Wheeler-Bowman, Foster and Council member Brandi Gabbard voting no.

Jackson said renovations of the building could begin this month.