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Black pastors want Welch to reconsider Kriseman's choice to redevelop the Tropicana Field site

An illustration of a community with all sorts of buildings, filled with windows
Courtesy: City of St. Petersburg
Black pastors in St. Petersburg are backing the JMA ventures plan to redevelop the Tropicana Field site.

The pastors in St. Petersburg are backing the JMA Ventures plan, saying it will produce more jobs, and affordable and workforce housing that will benefit the Black community.

A group of Black pastors from South St. Petersburg gathered Thursday under a white canopy outside of Cross and Anvil Human Services to share their vision for the redevelopment of the 86-acre Tropicana Field site.

Bishop Manuel Sykes, senior pastor at the Bethel Community Baptist Church, said there isn't a shadow of a doubt that JMA Ventures — which is based in Sacramento — should be the company St. Petersburg chooses. Its project is called the Sugar Hill Community Partners.

"With Sugar Hill there'll be 30,000 jobs, affordable and workforce housing that makes it not only possible, but makes it probable that African Americans will be stakeholders forever. In this project, that's unequalled. There's no competition whatsoever that can hold up to that type of promise. And as I say, integrity," he said.

People are sitting and standing or walking dogs in an open space with what looks like market stalls
Courtesy City of St. Petersburg

He and the other pastors are asking St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch to choose JMA over Midtown Development of Miami, a group tapped by former Mayor Rick Kriseman not long before he left office.

But Welch has made it clear, this decision will be his to make.

The gathering of the pastors was independent of the mayor's office, and both parties mentioned that to WUSF.

In April, Welch put 15 questions to Midtown and JMA, which resulted in "significant increases to the amount of affordable housing" in the JMA proposal, according to a spokeswoman from the mayor's office.

Sykes said if JMA is chosen, it will be a kind of "restorative justice" for the African-American community, whose historically Black "Gas Plant" neighborhood was displaced to make way for what eventually became Tropicana Field.

He said he saw Kevin (Johnson's) "connection with the community, all races," Sykes said. "He's very down to earth and connected. He believes in what he does. It's part of his core values."

Johnson is a one-time mayor of Sacramento and a former NBA All-Star. Now he is a partner in JMA Ventures.

In response to the pastor's press conference, Welch released this statement: "We appreciate and share the community's passion for this vital generational project. My evaluation process continues their due diligence. We will adhere to our procurement protocol until a decision is made."

Welch is expected to announce the next steps in the process in June.

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