1. Opinion

Editorial: St. Petersburg can't ignore Midtown's decline

The closing of this Walgreens last summer and the loss of a Walmart grocery store nearby have hurt St. Petersburg’s Midtown neighborhood.
The closing of this Walgreens last summer and the loss of a Walmart grocery store nearby have hurt St. Petersburg’s Midtown neighborhood.
Published Aug. 11, 2017

There is no way to sugarcoat it. St. Petersburg's poor, predominantly black neighborhoods south of downtown remain headed in the wrong direction. They have not benefited from downtown's revival or the overall economic recovery. Reversing decades of generational poverty remains a challenge in most major cities, and it will take a renewed commitment from the next mayor as well as more investment from both the public and private sectors to create more positive trend lines.

By virtually every measure, the south St. Petersburg neighborhoods generally known as Midtown and adjacent Childs Park have been headed backward rather than forward since the turn of the century. The comprehensive report by the Tampa Bay Times' Nathaniel Lash shows home values lag far behind values in the rest of the city and have not rebounded from the economic recession as well as other neighborhoods. The portion of renters who spend most of their income on housing has nearly doubled. The average household income, adjusted for inflation, has gone down. And the unemployment rate is twice as high as in the rest of St. Petersburg.

Those depressing trends are not the only reason so many black voters in this area are frustrated two weeks before the Aug. 29 mayoral election. Midtown's only grocery store closed in February. A Walgreens at a major intersection closed last summer. The restaurant in the historic, city-owned Manhattan Casino closed. A locally owned barbecue restaurant recently announced on Facebook it was closing because its landlord dramatically increased the rent. On and on.

Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker have taken different approaches to Midtown. Kriseman has dismissed Baker's successes at bringing a grocery story, credit union, college campus and other improvements to Midtown as investing in buildings rather than people. Baker effectively counters that Midtown residents wanted those amenities and benefited from them, and he blames the closing of the grocery at least partially on inattention by Kriseman. While Kriseman helped create a community redevelopment area for Midtown and reduced the number of abandoned properties, he has less to show for his efforts than Baker.

Regardless of past performance, the next mayor has to do better. Midtown ought to have at least one grocery store. The city should work with financial institutions to provide more capital at reasonable rates to small businesses owners, who are finding lenders even more reluctant as they see high-profile closures. It should work harder at attracting developers to build affordable housing. Education and job training need even more attention, and residents need better transit options to reach jobs outside their neighborhoods. And when Tropicana Field's 85 acres are redeveloped there has to be a better connection to the adjacent low-income neighborhoods.

There are a couple of bright spots in Midtown and Childs Park. The portion of residents who have a high school diploma or its equivalent has gone up since 1999. Crime rates have dropped, mirroring national trends. But even these successes have caveats. Elementary schools struggled as they resegregated, although some have recently seen modest improvement. And while the Police Department downplays the numbers, crime was significantly up in Midtown in the first quarter of this year and increasing faster than in other areas of the city.

Generational change is hard. It takes time. But public and civic leaders in St. Petersburg should be just as concerned about the direction of Midtown as the residents who live there.


  1. Ernie Field pushes the doorbell on his Ring doorbell camera at his home in Wolcott, Conn. [JESSICA HILL  |  AP]
  2. In this Oct. 22, 2018 file photo, people gather around the Ben & Jerry's "Yes on 4" truck as they learn about Amendment 4 and eat free ice cream at Charles Hadley Park in Miami. [WILFREDO LEE  |  Associated Press]
  3. How can Tampa Bay best prepare for the future when it comes to climate change?
  4. If St. Petersburg's proposed linkage fee eventually passes, a new condominium project like ONE St. Petersburg would have to pay a fee to the city for affordable housing totaling $1 per square foot of gross floor area.
  5. Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White.
  6.  [Andy Marlette -- Pensacola News Journal]
  7. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers remarks during Clay County Day at the Capitol in Tallahassee. [STEVE CANNON  |  AP]
  8. In this Feb. 19, 2020, file photo, from left, Democratic presidential candidates, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate Wednesday, in Las Vegas, hosted by NBC News and MSNBC. [JOHN LOCHER  |  AP]
  9. Tim Nickens (center) and Daniel Ruth (right) are congratulated by Chairman and CEO of Times Publishing Company Paul Tash (left) in the Tampa Bay Times newsroom in St. Petersburg after it was announced they had been awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial writing on April, 15, 2013. [John Pendygraft]
  10. Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis [Florida Governor's Office]
  11. Pasco County community news [TMCCARTY80  |  Tara McCarty]