As my time as mayor winds down, I find myself both proudly reflecting on what we’ve accomplished and regretful that there’s not more time on the clock — that the seeds planted in south St. Pete, for example, won’t yield a harvest on my watch. But that’s okay. In fact, it was by design.
Recruiting a grocery store to Tangerine Plaza, located at the south end of our historic 22nd Street S corridor, is easier than getting one to stay. My predecessors learned that with Sweetbay and Walmart, and I’ve also learned it. Sustained success for that shopping center requires spending power in its vicinity. It requires opportunity creation. As I’ve said time and again, I’ve never been interested in building a temporary movie set complete with a grocery store and a bank just to make it look like a complete neighborhood. My interest, our work at City Hall since Day One, has been about complete citizens — building up our people at least as much as we build up our places.
The results are evident, and the future is bright if we stay the course. Poverty among African Americans in St. Pete dropped to record lows twice since 2014, decreasing by 36 percent between 2015 and 2019. During that time, the median income for African Americans increased by 28 percent, outpacing the region and the nation. The gap between St. Pete’s poor white residents and poor Black residents was recorded at 8 percent in 2019, down from 23 percent when I took office.
Investments in small businesses through our unique South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area have helped to propel and sustain entrepreneurs. St. Pete Works, a program designed to provide sustainable employment for our residents, provide employers with a skilled workforce, and create prosperity in south St. Pete is working. Hundreds of our neighbors have been hired. Our City of Opportunity initiatives, such as a living wage and second chances and financial inclusion, have created a more equitable St. Pete.
Much work remains, and we know the global pandemic has taken its toll on many south St. Pete businesses. Assisting and lifting as many residents and small business owners up as possible remains my priority.
The recent front-page story about Tangerine paints a bleak picture and omits many advances. It omits that transportation and access to a grocer isn’t the challenge we thought it was, as the results of a shuttle service revealed.
Though market interest in the site is low, given grocers’ preference for busier corridors, we are committed to bringing healthy food to this corridor. Healthy St. Pete is working to implement a healthy neighborhood stores program that targets corner stores in the South St. Petersburg CRA and provides them the resources and incentives necessary to offer expanded healthy food options, such as produce and pantry staples. We are creating a map of all potential healthy food retailers in the city that can be used to assess gaps in healthy food access.
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As part of the St. Petersburg Food Policy Council, we are assessing the organizations, institutions, associations, and individuals who contribute to, or influence, our local food system by creating a log of relevant programs, policies, projects, and plans of each respective entity. We currently offer 11 “Fresh Rec Stop” locations in recreation centers across the city and offer low-cost affordable produce and nutrition information for the community to combat food insecurity and promote health behaviors.
Every summer, Healthy St. Pete operates a food service location at Dell Holmes Park ensuring youth do not experience nutritional gaps when not in school. Thousands are served each year.
Finally, the article repeatedly refers to the area surrounding Tangerine Plaza as “Midtown,” a confusing label with broad boundaries that once extended as far north as the Historic Kenwood neighborhood, where more grocery options are available. While the label persists in places, it was retired upon the creation of the South St. Petersburg CRA.
As has been previously remarked, every administration has worked to address this defining area of St. Petersburg. Each effort has made a difference, yet none has been enough. We know this because we hear our constituents loudly and clearly. Our shared goal is sustained success and getting it right not just for the political expediency of the present, but for future generations.
Rick Kriseman is the mayor of St. Petersburg.