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1977: NAACP opposes civic center proposal

By THERESA BLACKWELL, Times Staff Writer
Published August 21, 2007

Undated: Sponge boats line the bank of the Anclote River before the area now known as the sponge docks was established in this location.
[Special to the Times]

CLEARWATER - Less than a week before next Tuesday's city bond referendum, the Clearwater branch of the NAACP issued a warning in a position paper opposing the proposed civic center.

If voters approve the civic center in the referendum, the NAACP said, more than 20 poor black families "will use any legal means" to prevent the facility from ousting them from their homes.

The group based the warning on its survey of an estimated 66 families who live in the 17.5 acre site proposed for the civic center. The neighborhood lies between Missouri and Washington Avenues, just south of the City Hall annex and the Stone Buick dealership on Cleveland Street.

Promises by city officials to help the families find new homes failed to prevent the NAACP from formally opposing the civic center.

The City Commission has set a limit of $2.1-million for land purchases in the area if the civic center issue passes. The NAACP says that figure should be $4.9 million if the residents are to receive fair prices for their property and enough money to buy new homes.

The NAACP survey indicates 65 percent want to move - "if the price is right." But the survey shows the other 35 percent "do not wish to move under any circumstances and will use any legal means to remain there."

Besides being limited by the $2.1-million ceiling on land purchases, the city is prohibited by state law from paying more than 10 percent above the appraised value for land.

"What if this money you pay me still isn't enough to buy me a new home?" Evelyn Rooks, an elderly resident, asked commissioners at one of the meetings.

The city has promised help will be available through existing loan, rent subsidy and grant programs. But Eleanore Breland drew agreement from the residents when she declared, "If they don't owe money here, they shouldn't owe a dime anywhere else."

Included in the proposed bond issue is $15,000 to help residents move to new homes. If the proposal is approved, the city estimates it would be a year or possibly two before families would have to move out.

Commissioner William Nunamaker told residents they may be in for a windfall if the city buys their property. At the very least, he said, they will get a better deal from the city than from private buyers.

Yet NAACP President Lois Martin says the residents have good reason not to trust the city. "Your track record isn't very good in treating your black citizens," she told commissioners.

AUG. 22, 1949

Spongers protest plan to remove boats

TARPON SPRINGS - City commissioners called a special meeting Friday with the sponge captains to talk over the possibility of removing inactive boats from the city dock at the sponge exchange to make room for party fishing boats.

More than 100 sponge fishermen filled the room to protest.

Commissioner Greer stated that he did not wish to work a hardship on anyone nor run anyone out of town.

Mike Samarkos, owner of a fleet of sponge boats, stated that the city was proud to have the fleet when it was making money and spending it here, but now with no revenue they wanted them to move.

"There have been more tourists at the exchange during the past year," Samarkos said, "because of newspaper publicity and the (film), 16 Fathoms Deep."

John Gonatos, a curio operator, said he would fight to keep the sponge boats there because of the tourist attraction.

Mayor Howard ruled the meeting out of order.

Gonatos stated that he was a taxpayer and a citizen and would speak his mind.

Howard banged the gavel and adjourned the meeting with no decision reached and walked angrily out of the room.

Looking back

Headlines through the years

A look back at the events, people and places that made North Pinellas the unique place that it is. The information is compiled from past editions of the St. Petersburg Times.

[Last modified August 20, 2007, 21:50:07]

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