Mayor Ken Welch raised the Tampa Bay Rays flag over City Hall on Tuesday, the crowd cheered, smiled and celebrated. The fall breeze was blowing, and our team was in the playoffs for a fifth straight year. The excitement reflected the team’s play on the field and the mayor’s leadership in delivering a deal that addresses past promises to the African American community and St. Petersburg residents.
This deal is not a cure for the affordable housing shortage or poverty; no plan in this country’s history has created that much-needed cure. However, it does address many concerns that have been raised by our organization, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Florida, as far back as 1986.
New arrivals and well-intended allies with savior complexes must realize that city natives and former Gas Plant residents are not interested in reparations or a handout but rather an opportunity to fully participate in entrepreneurship and wealth creation at the coming redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site. Today, every faith leader should be encouraging residents to seek welding, plumbing, landscaping and construction training and to create businesses that can compete for vendor and contracting opportunities. The Pinellas Technical College and St. Petersburg College should be feeder hubs to the thousands of jobs that will be created.
The building of an African American history museum in a state where Black history is denied by policy, practice and politics is an important addition to this development. This plan is supported by Gwen Reese and people who actually lived in the Historic Gas Plant community.
The Welch administration has made diversity, equity and inclusion evident in the recent appointment of a chief equity officer. This administration has consistently used data, community feedback and equitable processes to inform their decision making.
Also part of the proposal is a minimum of 1,200 units of housing; 100-plus will be for independent senior residents. There will be $50 million in community benefits funding in the Hines/Rays proposal to develop the site.
As a leader of intentional interfaith social justice work, I found one of the most moving moments occurred when the agreement was announced and Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg and Mayor Welch shook hands. A businessperson who is Jewish and a Christian African American son of the Gas Plant finally got this deal done. In a time when our differences are often highlighted, this is a great story that exemplifies the power of integrity, equity and collaboration.
Those of us who played, lived and worshipped in the Gas Plant community knew that Abe Katz, the Jewish owner of Katz grocery store, gave credit to customers, provided rides to and from his store and hired people in the community. He treated everyone with kindness and respect. The future of this sacred land is being shaped by people with diverse backgrounds and experiences but share a common honor of history and an understanding of the power of inclusion.
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This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will generate $6 billion in revenue; now the broken promises of the past can be forgiven, as America’s game will finally deliver America’s dream to African Americans in the Sunshine City.
The Rev. J.C. Pritchett II is the president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Florida.