ST. PETERSBURG — The city began snapping up parcels in the Dome Industrial Park about seven years ago, hoping spruced up streets and a package of financial incentives would woo a big company to bring hundreds of much-needed manufacturing jobs to impoverished Midtown.
Bordered by a cement plant and within earshot of Interstate 275, the 15-acre area on the west side of 22nd Street South was home to old and run-down buildings and crisscrossed with narrow brick roads. Plans were made to demolish the buildings and upgrade roads, sewers and lighting.
But those plans perished in the recession and, today, the site still sits stubbornly empty. Now, one city council member says it’s time to abandon the city’s plans to land a big company and to focus on attracting smaller businesses and startups.
“If the only thing that is acceptable is a home run, you will wait a long time, and we’ve already waited a long time,” Councilman Karl Nurse said. “Maybe after all those years of that not working, we need to take a step back and say what do we need to get that started?”
City officials say there is still interest in the land and some ongoing discussions with companies. But they admit the city may have to invest in the area’s infrastructure and look to draw a number of small companies.
“We need to figure out the infrastructure and layout and look at subdividing the property into lot sizes that are attractive to individual job-generating users,” said Dave Goodwin, city director of economic development.
A redevelopment plan for the Dome Industrial Park was hatched in 1999 and initially focused on a 20-acre area on the east side of 22nd Street South. The city received $5 million in federal grants to buy run-down land. The grant, from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, came with strings, requiring that a minimum of at least one job be created for every $35,000 of grant money.
In 2007, the city sold most of the land to the U.S. Department of Labor for $2.25 million. It built a $40 million, nine-building Jobs Corps complex, creating about 100 jobs. The facility brought job and skills training to one of the city’s poorest areas, but the number of jobs was short of the city’s target, and it did not provide the manufacturing jobs needed for an area where many residents have no higher education.
With the proceeds from the sale, the city launched a second phase of the Dome plan, targeting the other side of 22nd Street South. To meet the HUD job target, the city would need to attract a company promising to provide at least 170 jobs, Goodwin said.
“That’s not our target — 170 is low,” he said. “We want to do better than that.”
The land is in an enterprise zone, is a designated brownfield site and in a community redevelopment area, meaning the city can offer tax credits to companies to move there.
A seafood processing company, a battery manufacturer and a company that manufactures floating concrete docks are among those that considered but passed on the site.
“They just didn’t pan out,” Goodwin said. He said he could not disclose which company is in talks with the city.
Other parts of the Dome Industrial Park have attracted businesses and jobs.
Lantmännen Unibake opened a new 55,000-square-foot facility after the city offered financial incentives. The city joined with Urban Development Solutions, a nonprofit group that opened a branch of Sylvia’s restaurant in the renovated Manhattan Casino on 22nd Street South.
As part of the Warehouse Arts District, the area’s lower rents have attracted dozens of artists. That includes Mark Aeling, who has worked out of his MGA Sculpture Studio close to the city’s land for nine years. He said other parts of the city still look more attractive to developers and businesses.
“The economy hasn’t helped, and it’s not a great part of town,” Aeling said.
Another complication is that the city still has to acquire a couple of parcels before it can offer a contiguous construction site to interested companies. That includes a lone resident whose home is in the middle of the parcel.
“We can put together a fairly attractive incentive package,” Goodwin said. “The real key to getting revitalization is to assemble the fragmented pieces of property.”