Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

How a Floribbean restaurant in Midtown became an issue in St. Petersburg's mayoral race

ST. PETERSBURG — The Manhattan Casino, a monument to the black community's resilience in the face of decades of harsh segregation, has become the latest campaign issue pitting Mayor Rick Kriseman against former Mayor Rick Baker.

The election fight this time: whether a trendy "Floribbean" fusion restaurant should occupy the iconic 92-year-old landmark at 642 22nd St. S.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Chasing a Midtown supermarket, St. Pete mayors missed signs of trouble

To some, adding a hip new eatery to the neighborhood would demonstrate that Midtown is emerging from decades of poverty and failure. But it would also replace Sylvia's, an outpost of the famed Harlem soul food restaurant, that closed there last year.

That's why others see it as a harbinger of gentrification pushed by outsiders.

The space needs a new restaurant. Kriseman's administration recently received a proposal from a group headed by Ramon Hernandez, who operates two Pipo's Cuban restaurants in Pinellas County, a large catering business and a Tampa Bay Rays food concession and Gary Moran, a chef who opened the now-closed but once popular Wimauma restaurant in Tampa.

SUNSHINE CITY SHOWDOWN: Keep up with the Tampa Bay Times coverage of the St. Petersburg mayoral race.

They want to open Callaloo, a restaurant that combines food indigenous to Florida and the Caribbean. The building's large commercial kitchen would also operate around the clock for Pipo's extensive catering and special events business, said the group's strategic consultant Mario Farias.

The proposed restaurant would have an affordable menu, Farias said. Lunches would cost $8 to $10; dinner, $12 to $18.

He said the ownership group, which includes two as-yet-unnamed African American partners, plans to hire up to 25 workers to operate the commercial kitchen on 22nd Street S, known a century ago as "The Deuces" when it was the thriving center of black life in the city.

"This is our vision: we want to take our employees that we train on 'The Deuces,' and plant them as owner-operators in new restaurants," Farias said.

Their unsolicited proposal, which was made after Kriseman rejected two bids in April, is "an interesting proposal that has some real strength to it," said city development administrator Alan DeLisle.

After receiving the proposal, the city reopened the window to accept more proposals through July 28. Staff will recommend a bid and Kriseman who will make the final decision.

But Kriseman is in the battle of his political life against Baker. African-American voters could decide the winner.

At Tuesday night's debate at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, the city's largest African-American congregation, Kriseman said he wanted a tenant that would survive longer than a few years. The city doesn't want "a house of cards that just collapses," the mayor said.

"What we want for Sylvia's is something that's sustainable," Kriseman said.

But Baker said he doesn't see the idea from the Pipo's group as a good fit for Midtown: "I don't get it." And he blamed Kriseman for bungling the Manhattan Casino, which the city spent $2.8 million to renovate, expand and reopen in 2011: "It was simply inattention."

Larry Newsome, a prominent black businessman, opened Sylvia's to great fanfare in November 2013. The city seized the building last June after a protracted battle with Newsome over failure to pay rent.

Newsome's failed ventures have links to both candidates: He held the long-term lease at Midtown's Tangerine Plaza, where anchor Walmart pulled out earlier this year. That lease was awarded under the Baker administration.

Farias said the group plans to spend at least $300,000 to renovate the building. A five-year lease would have a base rent of $40,000 annually plus $2,800 on sales tax on that rent. The group would also pay about $34,000 in property taxes.

The city would share in 1 percent of revenues after $2 million was reached in sales and the revenue-sharing would gradually increase, according to the proposal.

The group doesn't want to pay rent for the first six months and is asking for an annual city incentive of $1,500 for each resident hired who lives within the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area. That award would be capped at to a $40,000 per year. The city would also be responsible for the upkeep of the roof, exterior and HVAC replacement subject to an annual expenditure cap.

No other bids have been submitted yet, said DeLisle, who added he didn't want to evaluate the group's bid while the bidding process was still underway.

Bethel Community Baptist Church Pastor Manuel Sykes doesn't understand why the city has passed over black entrepreneurs' proposals for the Manhattan Casino and Commerce Park, a long vacant parcel across the street that Kriseman awarded last year to a consortium of businesses. Farias was involved in that deal, too.

And he said what's planned for that stretch of Midtown — "workforce" housing, a high-end motorcycle dealership and now a fusion restaurant — looks like gentrification.

"Once again, you know, it's just another sign of the overall way in which the administration finds that none of our indigenous plans are acceptable and that only people from outside, non-African Americans, can be afforded opportunities to come in and have success," said Sykes, a former local NAACP president.

Farias said the restaurant's two African-Americans co-owners would be identified as soon once final details are worked out. He said operations could begin with three months of a decision: "We want to be part of this community."

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.

How a Floribbean restaurant in Midtown became an issue in St. Petersburg's mayoral race 06/30/17 [Last modified: Friday, June 30, 2017 12:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida education news: Working conditions, school choice, teacher housing and more

    Blogs

    WORK CONDITIONS: Two teachers at a Pinellas County middle school request transfers out, saying the campus has become "hostile and racially charged." The …

    Pinellas Park Middle School
  2. Forecast: Break out those sweaters, Tampa Bay, as cooler weather just a day away

    Weather

    Tampa Bay residents will finally be able to break out their sweaters and boots this week, but not until enduring yet another humid, rainy day to start the workweek.

    Tampa Bay's 7-day forecast. [WTSP]
  3. Justin Timberlake in Super Bowl halftime show for first time since 'wardrobe malfunction'

    Celebrities

    Justin Timberlake has finally been invited back to the Super Bowl halftime show, 14 years after the "wardrobe malfunction" with Janet Jackson caused a national controversy.

    Singer Janet Jackson covers her breast as Justin Timberlake holds part of her costume after her outfit came undone during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston in 2004. The NFL announced Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, that Timberlake will headline the Super Bowl halftime show Feb. 4 in Minnesota, 14 years after the "wardrobe malfunction" with Janet Jackson cause a national controversy. [Associated Press]
  4. Here's what happened when 30 high school sophomores gave up their phones for a day

    K12

    LUTZ — They were everywhere at Steinbrenner High School. Teens with panic-stricken faces, furiously slapping one thigh, then the other.

    Grace Hayes, 15, left, and Kai'Rey Lewis, 15, talk and text friends after having a discussion about smartphone technology in Tiffany Southwell's English Literature class at Steinbrenner High last week. Southwell asked theme to give up their phones for a day and write about it. For Lewis, the ride home that day "was the longest bus ride in my life." [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  5. Cuban media treats visit by Tampa City Council as historic event

    Politics

    TAMPA — Delegations of one kind or another have been traveling from Tampa to Cuba for years, even before President Barack Obama took steps to normalize relations between the two countries in December 2014.

    A Tampa delegation to Cuba this week was featured prominently in reports by the state-run media in Cuba, including Granma. From left are Tampa City Council vice chair Harry Cohen, St. Petersburg City Council Chair Darden Rice, Tampa philanthropist David Straz and Tampa City Council Chair Yolie Capin.