News, Jazz, NPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts / Culture

Two Black neighborhoods were demolished for Tropicana Field. Ex-residents gathered and remembered

A bigger white tent and a smaller blue tent on the blacktop of parking lot four outside Tropicana Field. The Dome can be seen in the background.
Daylina Miller
/
WUSF Public Media
Several hundred people gathered in a parking lot outside St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field for a reunion of former residents and descendants of residents of the Black neighborhoods known as Gas Plant and Laurel Park. They were torn down to make way for the stadium in the 1980s.

The reunion comes weeks before St. Petersburg’s first Black mayor is sworn in, and as redevelopment is being planned for the 86 acres around and including Tropicana Field.

A reunion took place in a parking lot outside St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field Sunday honoring former residents of Black neighborhoods relocated for the construction of the stadium.

When the Gas Plant and Laurel Park neighborhoods were demolished in the 1980s, it erased part of the city's Black history. The reunion allowed families to lift up names of people, businesses and churches who made up the neighborhoods, and to reminisce about the rich history of the city's Black communities.

Now the 86 acres around and including Tropicana Field will be redeveloped.

A bald man in glasses and a grey suit stands at a podium.
Daylina Miller
/
WUSF Public Media
Ken Welch, St. Petersburg's first Black mayor, will be sworn into office next month.

One of the descendants at the event was Ken Welch — who will be sworn in as the city's first Black mayor next month.

He said there is an opportunity to include these residents in the redevelopment plans, and make good on promises not kept decades ago.

“It's not just about rebuilding physical structures. It's rebuilding that sense of community. And that's how we move forward as a city,” Welch said.

Welch said for him, equity and inclusion are at the forefront of those conversations — and affordable housing is top of mind.

Shirley Dunlap Abrams lived in both neighborhoods. With tears in her eyes, she talked about losing contact with many friends when Gas Plant and Laurel Park were torn down.

“I was hurt, because I lost a lot of people that I had known, and areas that I could relate to,” Abrams said. “And, you know, it's just never the same anymore.”

SP Reunion5_DM_121221.jpg
Daylina Miller
/
WUSF Public Media
Pia Jordan, left, and Basha P. Jordan, Jr., right. Jordan, Jr.'s grandfather played a big role in the original development of St. Petersburg's Black community.

She’s still a little angry that Tropicana Field was built over the memories of her childhood and early adulthood, wishing instead that it had been built on undeveloped land elsewhere.

The reunion allowed families to lift up names of people, businesses and churches who made up the neighborhoods. And to reminisce about the rich history of the city's other Black communities.

Basha P. Jordan Jr., the grandson of Elder Jordan, a man born into slavery who started his own business in St. Petersburg. He eventually gave 27 acres of land to the city, which became Jordan Park, which is about half a mile from the former Gas Plant and Laurel Park neighborhoods.

His grandfather also built the Jordan Dance Hall, which became known as the historic Manhattan Casino on 22nd Street South, in an area known as The Deuces.

"African Americans have played a great part in the establishment of this city,” Jordan Jr. said. “And they need to know that. We as a people have more going for us then than we realize."

Jordan said he hopes it inspires more people to have conversations about their past and the city's history as it faces more redevelopment.

A man in a black shirt flips over a piece of meat on a giant black metal smoker.
Daylina Miller
/
WUSF Public Media
The reunion included a cook-out.

The reunion was a joint effort by Voices Heard, Voices Matter (VHVM) of the Bloomberg Harvard Group, the African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg, the Institute on Black Life at the University of South Florida, the City of St. Petersburg, and Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg (FHSP).

“A coalescing of memories and paths taken by people displaced must be heard in today’s light of racial reckoning and the broad awareness of the role of race in past decisions,” Randall H. Russell, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg said in a statement prior to the event.

“We are about to make another major once-in-a-century decision, lifting up the voices of those displaced into the hearts and minds of decision makers can greatly accelerate race equity outcomes in our city.”

Daylina Miller produced this story as part of the America Amplified initiative using community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional and national journalism. America Amplified is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.