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With industrial goals gone, St. Petersburg considers housing on Commerce Park

The plan is the latest for the plot of land on 22nd Street S across from the Manhattan Casino. Town homes and commercial space would go next to an eventual Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum.

ST. PETERSBURG — With the goal of creating industrial jobs on the locale once known as Commerce Park now dead, City Council members Thursday heard about a new proposal for the city-owned property.

Townhomes and commercial space — with room for retail, office or restaurants — will occupy a 2.8-acre portion of the site, which sits along 22nd Street S in the heart of the city’s historic Black community. The city plans to develop the area in collaboration with the Sankofa Vision Group, led by a collection of some of the city’s most prominent African-American leaders.

The plan calls for the townhomes to be sold at an affordable price and the creation of a community development fund that will help fund other endeavors within the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area. Administration officials told council members they proposed seeding that fund with $100,000 from the redevelopment area’s tax-increment financing dollars, plus contributing to the fund annually.

“This proposal is designed to invest in the community,” said Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin.

Proposed layout of townhomes and commercial space on a 2.8-acre section of what used to be called Commerce Park along 22nd Street S.
Proposed layout of townhomes and commercial space on a 2.8-acre section of what used to be called Commerce Park along 22nd Street S. [ City of St. Petersburg ]

The city began assembling the 13-acre Commerce Park site, which sits north of Interstate 275 across the street from the Manhattan Casino, in 2007 with help from a $2.2 million U.S. Department of Urban Development grant. The caveat was the land had to create jobs.

In his first term, Mayor Rick Kriseman awarded marine supply company EMP Industries and motorcycle dealer Euro Cycles of Tampa Bay the rights to build atop the land. Still, the site languished for years, and the city was forced to file eviction paperwork against Euro Cycles. Then the federal government, impatient at the lack of progress, yanked back its grant on the project, eliminating the job creation requirements that came with it.

In response, Kriseman last year altered his vision for the site. He announced the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, currently on 9th Avenue S, would relocate to the EMP Industries parcel. Meanwhile, Sankofa proposed a partnership with the city to develop the Euro Cycles site. Thursday’s presentation provided some clarity on what may go there.

Many of the particulars about the new development must still be worked out. The city this month sought proposals from developers.

But the basic premise calls for 28 two-story townhomes along Fairfield Avenue S with parking behind them, plus about 28,500 square feet of commercial space that would front 22nd Street. Officials estimated construction of the entire project could cost the city about $16 million, and they hoped to secure Penny for Pinellas money, tax credits or grants to offset some of the cost. Construction could begin in early 2022 and wrap up in early 2023.

The goal would be to keep things affordable for homeowners and commercial tenants. Sankofa, which would operate and maintain the commercial space, would keep rents affordable for small businesses.

City officials said Sankofa would have to hit benchmarks, just like any other operator of a city-owned facility. If things go well, the group could have the option to buy the facility.

“This project really is the un-gentrification,” said Alan DeLisle, the city’s development administrator.

Renderings of townhomes on the Commerce Park site along 22nd Street S.
Renderings of townhomes on the Commerce Park site along 22nd Street S. [ Sankofa Vision Plan ]

The project will be the northern terminus of the Deuces Rising proposal, a revitalization plan for 22nd Street, which is also known as the Deuces. And it could pair with a retooled Manhattan Casino, which the city hopes to transform into a food hall and incubator space.

Council members universally lauded the project as way to benefit an often overlooked community that has not yet reaped the benefits of that site. But Robert Blackmon and Ed Montanari raised concerns about the city’s monetary investment.

Montanari said he wants to ensure that City Council has oversight of how the development fund monies are spent. Blackmon said he wants to see revenue come back into the city.

“We just can’t give away the entire house,” Blackmon said. “We have to do something for the taxpayers.”

Council member Brandi Gabbard responded that the return on the city’s investment is the “intrinsic value to the community.”

Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders said there’s value in bolstering that area’s legacy.

“When we start to put a dollar value to legacy, we lose the entire intent,” she said.