Many black residents of St. Petersburg painfully remember how the old gas plant neighborhood land was taken from them to ultimately to build a stadium that was never approved by voters. Their homes, businesses and properties were seized when the area was designated as “blighted” and labeled a “community redevelopment area” (CRA). People were initially told that the gas plant would be developed into affordable housing and an industrial park. Baseball was not part of the original plan. Instead of the neighborhood renaissance, wealthy land developers took the land through the force of government and made money off the back of the poor and the taxpayers. History is repeating itself today as the same exact model is being used in midtown to seize property and give it to the rich and well connected – all in the name of “moving forward”. Welcome to the “2020 plan”, an injustice cloaked in platitudes, good intentions and hiding the truth of theft by government.
The 2020 plan will create a “Community Redevelopment Area” in an area bounded approximately by 1st Ave. S to 30th Ave S between 4th st. and 49th st.. The area was drawn in such a way to ensure it would meet the at least two of 14 Federal requirements to qualify for designation as a CRA – 1) a drop in property values in the area and 2) areas that have “deteriorated sites” or other improvements. Part of the methods of a CRA is to create a TIF (Tax increment finance zone) to allow a certain portion of property tax dollars to be retained in the TIF for government-run redevelopment. However, the TIF’s proposed in the CRA account for only about 22% of the total area between the two TIF’s created. This raises the question as to why the two TIF’s are so much smaller than the CRA. The large CRA does not seem directly necessary to create the two TIF zones (one along 34th st. s. and one designated Melrose/midtown). Moreover, four existing TIF zones in the area will be shut down to create these two new versions of the TIF’s. Those four prior TIF’s appear to have been nowhere near as successful as originally promised.
So why the big CRA to create two TIF zones comprising only 22% of the total CRA area? The large CRA creates another opportunity to “redevelop” midtown based on the interests and plans of the rich and well connected. This is exactly what happened at the Gas Plant despite promises. As reported through the Olive B McClin Community History project, many promises were never kept at the Gas Plant:
“You might recall there was nothing about baseball in the original plan. That plan had promised to rebuild the neighborhood with new, affordable housing and a modern-day industrial park. The plan also promised in writing 600 new jobs, with combined salaries of $5.6-million, by the end of the 1980s.”
The proposed “2020 plan” will allow the city to seize private property for “public use” to build roads, “infrastructure” and transit stations. That property will be seized without just compensation. With the proposed Greenlight Pinellas plan to build light rail in the county, it is highly likely that some land is targeted for development as train stations and for related businesses. The area will undergo a gentrification in order to make it look like those in the driver’s seat want it to look like. The city will be allowed to sell many of the neighborhood properties it has acquired over the years at under the true value of the property. That means people who live in the same neighborhood will see their property values go down!
Instead of ensuring that we use freedom, property rights and low taxes to ensure prosperity in midtown and beyond, the big government with its well connected land developers and special interests will be targeting midtown properties for their own enrichment. The people of Midtown St. Petersburg should look at the “2020 plan” as just the latest version of the gas plant plan that destroyed neighborhoods and businesses in the 80’s all to enrich the well-connected in the Political class.