Midtown mecca begins to regain glory

The Manhattan Casino, in the heart of St. Petersburg, is being renovated with a new era of entertainment and business in mind.

Published January 19, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - One of the city's more venerated buildings is getting its facelift at last.

Crews have began renovating the Manhattan Casino, 642 22nd St. S. Passers-by can see it happening. Workers have knocked out doors and windows and are crawling around inside.

It is a surprising view of a 1920s building that in recent years has presented to the world a closed, bunkerlike facade.

But in its day, the iconic structure served as an African-American social center, provided a venue for big-name entertainers and - ironically - offered one of the few spots in old St. Petersburg where black people and white people could come together to hear performers revered by all.

The city-owned building is being renovated with a new era of entertainment and business in mind.

The second floor served as the old ballroom. In its modern guise, it will serve as a hall for such activities as banquets, receptions, parties and perhaps, as in the old days, a place for music and dancing.

"We're moving forward on a historic landmark. I'm sure . . . the community is awaiting its completion. We're still very much interested in trying to secure an anchor tenant," said Goliath Davis, deputy mayor for Midtown.

The anchor tenant likely would occupy most of the first floor, Davis said, and officials are hoping to sign a major restaurant. But no deal is pending.

Besides a redo of the old casino, the $2-million renovation includes construction of a 3,500-square-foot building to provide an entrance to the second floor. It will contain an elevator and a stairway, and will be situated north of the existing building and behind its wall line.

Meanwhile, structural work is being done on the original building to connect the walls and provide sufficient support for the second floor.

The second floor could be open toward the end of this year, said Rick Smith, an economic development coordinator.

The Manhattan job is the latest element in a series of projects that has changed the appearance of 22nd Street S in the past two years.

The Royal Theater reopened in October as a renovated Boys and Girls Club. The Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center opened 11 months ago on the historic Mercy Hospital site. And the Center for Achievement, with the St. Petersburg College Midtown campus in residence, opened in 2003.

Also on 22nd Street S, the Dome Industrial Park's pilot project awaits tenants on Fifth Avenue S. A supermarket-anchored shopping center called Tangerine Plaza is on the boards for 18th Avenue S.

To see an interactive history of 22nd Street S and of the Manhattan Casino, go to www.sptimes.com/2002/webspecials02/deuces