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Trop site in St. Petersburg must benefit Black community | Column
The destruction of the African American community at the Gas Plant area, still reverberates through our city, writes guest columnist Rev. J.C. Pritchett II.
This rendering shows an aerial view of a proposed Tropicana Field site in St. Petersburg, as envisioned by a team of developers led by JMA Ventures and Sugar Hill Community Partners.
This rendering shows an aerial view of a proposed Tropicana Field site in St. Petersburg, as envisioned by a team of developers led by JMA Ventures and Sugar Hill Community Partners. [ Sugar Hill Community Partners ]
Published May 14

On a beautiful peninsula sits a community that faces more challenges than the other sectors of the city. An area where hope, despair, and a feeling of disconnection to the remainder of the city hangs in the air. Many in the African American community feel the sun burning their arms and scorching their feet because they have been left uncovered.

J.C. Pritchett II
J.C. Pritchett II [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

The stats and conditions that exist here are the same as they were 36 years ago when the author wrote a column in this space asking that we build a stadium that may be the catalyst to turning our situation around.

Today, almost four decades later the lie has been exposed, the emperor has no clothes, the wizard was hustling us. The destruction of the African American community at the Gas Plant area, still reverberates through our city. The harm, the broken promises, the dismantling of a vibrant community are still present, impactful and must be reconciled. Now, here we are at the intersection of reconciliation and progress.

Three things are different. 1. The economy. Saint Petersburg is no longer a sleepy village begging to be Tampa. The restaurants, museums, galleries, beautiful waterfront and nightlife attract people from across the world to experience the “fountain of youth”. The progress and success of our city has created generational wealth for some while others fight for a living wage. The global pandemic has exposed the need for respect and equitable fair pay for many of our citizens, including our hospitality workers, bus drivers, and others who help to establish our city as a premier destination.

2. George Floyd. After the murder of Mr. Floyd there appears to be an awareness of the various ways in which inequity has harmed our country and a desire to right the wrong of the past. Despite this desire, last November city voters rejected every charter review committee recommendation that embedded the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion. However, many of us still advocate and believe that it is necessary to revise policies and to rectify harm that has been caused from not having diverse experiences and voices at the decision making table.

3. Mayor Welch. The 54th Mayor is a child of the Gas Plant neighborhood. He will soon make a selection between the Midtown or Sugar Hill development groups that are being considered to redevelop the 86 acre site. Mayor Welch has worshiped on this land, eaten meals and attended social events, built relationships with the families and friends who called Gas Plant home and created memories there. It is his responsibility to ensure that the African American community is not harmed again during this process and that all the residents of this city have a developer, a design and finished project, that is inclusive.

A balance must be struck between honoring the past and moving forward. There is a place for workforce affordable housing and hotel suites, a baseball field for the professionals and a safe green space for the kids. This cannot be another example where developers, the well connected, the powerful and wealthy come out on top, while the African American community is left with unsustainable promises and a side wink.

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Rev. J.C. Pritchett II is the President of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Florida and the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

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