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Opinion
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Guest Column
A plan to turbocharge purchasing power in St. Pete’s Midtown | Column
We have an opportunity for a free-market solution to the need for a local grocer in a food desert.
The Walmart Neighborhood Market in Midtown's Tangerine Plaza closed years ago.
The Walmart Neighborhood Market in Midtown's Tangerine Plaza closed years ago.
Published Mar. 14, 2021|Updated Mar. 14, 2021

I greatly appreciated Wendy Wesley speaking out about the need for a grocery store to return to St. Petersburg’s Tangerine Plaza shopping center in her recent column, “Midtown’s needy should be a priority.” As a member of City Council and former Midtown resident, I’ve spent many hours communicating with city administration, community stakeholders and business executives trying to find a solution to the “food desert.”

But we have an opportunity for a free-market solution to the need for a local grocer while, at the same time, promoting the revitalization of the community. Tangerine Plaza is a 50,000 square foot city-owned shopping center on the corner of 22nd Street and 18th Avenue S. The largest portion of the center, almost 40,000 square feet, has sat vacant since the Walmart closed in 2017.

City Council member Robert Blackmon
City Council member Robert Blackmon [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]

As the complex’s owners, the city has tried time and again to attract a new anchor tenant to the space. Our efforts have been fruitless, and multiple tenants in the plaza are behind on their rents — some for years. As an elected official and a taxpayer, I believe this is extremely concerning, especially when we are subsidizing this expensive boondoggle.

At the same time, the city has requested bids to redevelop our Municipal Services Center at One Fourth Street N. We are now in talks to sell it to a private developer and construct a nearly $50 million dollar replacement building next to City Hall.

I absolutely believe that our municipal employees should have the best facilities possible, that every decision we make should have fiscal responsibility at its heart and that our city’s resources should contribute to the growth of our communities.

It is for these reasons that I propose we sell the building currently housing the Municipal Services Center outright and relocate those facilities to Tangerine Plaza.

This plan will allow us to save tens of millions of dollars in construction costs while bringing hundreds of city employees and municipal service customers into the Midtown community daily. With them comes new purchasing power that will inspire the development of a new generation of local businesses.This is a real chance for meaningful change for a traditionally marginalized community.

We owe it to the citizens of South St. Pete to give them a real chance at economic development, and we can spark it while saving taxpayers citywide nearly $50 million.

Robert Blackmon represents District 1 on the St. Petersburg City Council.

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