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Midtown welcomes safety, revival 2 plans will bring

The council okays using hundreds of thousands of dollars to slow traffic, reduce crime and merge two neighborhoods.

By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Bessie Cannida's 10-year-old grandson Tray does what normal children of that age often do: Run into the street, cars be darned.

"I'm afraid for him," said the Mel-Tan Heights neighborhood president. "Those cars can't stop on a dime and give you 9 cents change."

So Cannida was especially grateful for the speed humps that are part of Mel-Tan's neighborhood plan, approved last week by the City Council.

"They'll have to slow up, or if they don't they'll be putting their car in the shop every street," she said.

Cannida's neighborhood, bounded by 15th and 18th avenues S between 28th and 31st streets, also will get better sidewalks, lower speed limits, a crime prevention program and some other amenities.

The plan was one of two the council okayed last week, which means more than a quarter-million dollars will be pumped into the Midtown neighborhoods to make them safer and more attractive.

Most of the money will come from the city's neighborhood improvement fund.

The other plan combines two neighborhoods: Fruitland Heights and Casler Heights. Together, the two make up 81 acres bordered by 18th and 22nd Avenues S between 16th and 22nd streets.

Fruitland Heights' president, Johnnie Mack, has battled to improve life in her neighborhood for a generation.

"Excited? I've waited for this for over 22 years," Mack said.

Decorative lights, speed humps and landscaping are the neighborhood priorities, she said, with boarded houses and vacant lots also due some attention.

According to the city, there are 17 such houses and 45 lots in the combined neighborhoods.

Fruitland and Casler merged about two years ago when the plan work began.

It was a fortuitous union, said Johnny Welch, Casler president. He cited Mack's energy as being helpful in driving the planning process and including his area.

"She's the mother of all these neighborhoods," Welch said.

Neighborhood plans are developed under the eye of the city's neighborhood team. Identifying needs and goals are the first step. Brainstorming sessions are held. Both property owners and residents get a chance to have a say in what is ultimately approved.

Work begins soon after the council gives a thumbs-up.

"It should start in March," Welch said.

The city has put together 21 plans, including the ones approved last week. Several form a bloc in the heart of Midtown, the part of the city targeted for special attention in housing, economic development and crime prevention.

Several other neighborhood plans are pending, in and out of Midtown, said neighborhood partnership manager Susan Ajoc.

Among plans in the pipeline are those of Euclid-St. Paul's, Campbell Park, Cromwell Heights, Lakewood Terrace, Ponce de Leon and Greater Pinellas Point. University Park, near the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, is working on a vision statement.

Meanwhile, Mel-Tan has already planned its kickoff party. It's 7 p.m. Friday at the Enoch Davis Center, 1110 18th Ave. S.

" 'Come hungry,' is what they said," Ajoc said.

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