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Withering blight

Money is coming in to rehabilitate historic 22nd Street S and remove "some of the blight'' from the onetime hub of the black community.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 18, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Good news has come in a batch for 22nd Street S.

photo
[Times photo: Fred Victorin]
Joe Yates, who has run a barber shop on 22nd Street S for 45 years, gives Billie Donald a haircut. The building, which also houses apartments - including Yates', will get $159,000 in renovations from a city loan program.
And, officials say, each piece represents a step toward reviving the historic thoroughfare, which in its day meant as much to the city's African-American community as segregated downtown Central Avenue meant to whites.

First, Florida A&M University last week gave the 22nd Street Redevelopment Corp. a $50,000 grant to fix up a vacant, boarded building in the middle of the street's historic section.

Once a laundry, the 7,500-square-foot building at 1025 22nd St. S will serve as the redevelopment group's office and as a community center.

"We're removing some of that blight," said Annette Howard, the group's president. "I think it shows a commitment. It shows we're making an effort, not just talking."

Howard hopes 22nd Street wins state Main Street designation, a program to help old business districts rejuvenate. If it does, the new building will become the Main Street office. City money already has been set aside to hire a Main Street manager.

There's more, all within about four blocks:

A city loan program is bringing $159,000 worth of rehabilitation to a commercial-residential building at 1239 22nd St. S.

Joe Yates has operated a barber shop there for 45 years. Above the shop are apartments. Yates is excited the building at last is in line for some work.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "We're hopeful of seeing some things come back, maybe not (completely) come back, but have some new things made available," he said.

Yates credited Mayor David Fischer with raising awareness of 22nd Street and challenged the next mayor to keep it going.

"Whoever takes his shoes is going to have a large track to fill," Yates said.

At 1123 22nd St. S, the Tampa Bay Black Investment Group will get $83,000 in city block grant funds to fix up the building. It will become a business "incubator," providing various services to help new companies get up and running.

The city-owned Mercy Hospital at 1344 22nd St. S will get exterior repairs, particularly to the roof, city officials said. The hospital, which served the black community until the 1960s and is designated a historic landmark, has large tears in its roof.

"We're going to move ahead with the roof and the exterior shell. It's more of a weatherproofing project," said Kevin Dunn, the city's managing director for development coordination. "We are meeting (this week) to develop the scope of it, and we do want to accelerate it as quickly as possible."

The city is searching for a tenant to take over the building.

A Clearwater businesswoman is thinking about buying a vacant building, formerly a liquor store, on the northwest corner of Ninth Avenue S and 22nd Street.

Gloria Campbell wants to use the building for a computer training center geared toward making people already in the work force computer-literate.

"I think with some of the plans for the area, including the industrial park, this would be a good fit," said Campbell, who said she operated Adventure Training Systems in Clearwater for five years.

City officials who deal in economic matters see activity as a good sign.

"I think it's going to add to the momentum to get designated (as a Main Street project), plus it's physical improvement in that corridor," said Cindy Margiotta, economic development manager.

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