St. Petersburg community benefits council chairperson resigns

Gypsy Gallardo resigned from the advisory council. Esther Matthews has been appointed in her place.
Gypsy Gallardo makes a presentation on Nov. 28. Gallardo resigned from St. Petersburg's Community Benefits Advisory Council.
Gypsy Gallardo makes a presentation on Nov. 28. Gallardo resigned from St. Petersburg's Community Benefits Advisory Council. [ DEACON WILL JOHNSON | Courtesy of Gypsy Gallardo ]
Published Dec. 7, 2023|Updated Dec. 7, 2023

Gypsy Gallardo, who serves on a St. Petersburg citizen panel that helps assess whether large publicly backed construction projects provide benefits to all city residents, is stepping down from the committee just as the city embarks on one of its largest redevelopment efforts ever.

In an email to the Tampa Bay Times, Gallardo said she is refocusing her efforts outside of City Hall to better ensure the Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment does more for Black residents while saying the city has a poor record of giving city business to minority firms.

Though the mayor and City Council have picked a strong Community Benefits Advisory Council, Gallardo wrote, “the ship is not yet in shape to optimize the opportunities at hand. We have some work to do, and a lot of it rests inside City Hall working in partnership with the broader community.”

Gallardo provided her resignation letter to the Times, which addresses city staff concerns about an appearance of a conflict of interest because city officials have discussed investing in the Sankofa on the Deuces project as a potential community benefit. Gallardo previously led the Deuces project but said her resignation has nothing to do with the city’s suggestion to direct Tampa Bay Rays’ and their development partner Hines’ community benefit dollars toward the Deuces project.

The advisory council vets projects that receive significant city subsidies to ensure that they provide benefits back to the community, such as workforce training or affordable housing. Since the “community benefits agreement” was approved by the City Council in 2021, the advisory council greenlit a Moffitt Cancer Center project, though that project was later nixed by Mayor Ken Welch.

The panel now takes on the Historic Gas Plant District, the sweeping redevelopment project involving the dozens of acres of surface parking around current Tropicana Field, excluding the ballpark.

Gallardo was a founding member of the advisory council and was twice elected as chairperson. In her email, she said she is working with community partners to leverage “non-local/non taxpayer funding sources that can multiply the economic benefits for St. Pete.”

In a memo to city staff provided to the Times, Gallardo shared findings that the city is underperforming in its own small business and apprentice hiring goals, “which raises the concern that it will not be able to facilitate the volume of contracting for the Gas Plant and Stadium that meets the (Community Benefits Advisory) goals and optimizes the local economic impact.”

Welch, who has made it his top priority to ensure the Gas Plant redevelopment benefits Black residents, appointed Esther Matthews, president of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, as Gallardo’s replacement. Matthews was one of 38 eligible applicants who applied to serve as an ad hoc member of the advisory council for the Historic Gas Plant District.

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Matthews received only one vote from council members, who selected two ad hoc members to the advisory council, with the most votes going to residents Debbie Reeser and Karyn Mueller. The City Council ratified the two appointments to the advisory council Thursday afternoon.

Council vice chairperson Deborah Figgs-Sanders will continue to serve as ad hoc council member. Last week, she took issue about not having advisory council members “that actually have true experience from the Gas Plant history” with “personal, historical investments to this particular project.”