Give proof of the “promises” that he claims were made? You’ll have to pay me $131 first, says St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch

After repeatedly claiming that “promises” were made decades ago to “the black community, and businesses displaced” by the then redevelopment of the Gas Plan District, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch now claims he needs three hours of to locate evidence of those “promises.” And you have to pay for the time to find them.

In this editorial on July 12, 2023, St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch spoke of “the promises of shared economic benefit to the Black community” as one of his priorities in the proposed Stadium Area Redevelopment Project (SARP). In his “State of the City” speech on January 30th, 2024, St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch also spoke of the “fulfillment of promises to the black community, and businesses displaced” as reasons why the SARP should proceed (underlining added to the word “promises” in both quotes). On September 19, 2023, Welch also spoke of “honoring the promises made…some 40 years ago.” (as 1:45 of the video).

However, our recent review of relevant agreements and city council action authorizing the bulldozing of the Gas Plant district in the 1980’s to make room for Tropicana Field found no records of such “promises” being made by the city or anyone else.

Therefore, we decided to make a Florida Public Records Law request, a so-called §119 request, for any records Welch has of such promises made to “the black community” or “business displaced.” We also asked for records of such promises made involving Tangerine Plaza, another claim that Welch has made without providing evidence.

CLICK for a larger view of the cost estimate from the city to provide evidence of the “promises” the Mayor said had been made

The answer from Welch through the city clerk’s office? You have to pay $131 for the 3 hours of work it will take to locate and provide you with those promises that I referenced in my statements. And that’s just an estimate — it could be more.

Four weeks after we made our public records request, we had neither received the records nor a progress update. Therefore, we exercised the only option available to us under §119: we told the city clerk’s office that if Mayor Welch didn’t produce the requested records by the end of Friday, then we would bring a lawsuit seeking his compliance with the law.

Instead of records, at 4:28 P.M. last Friday, we received the estimate for $131 for 3 hours of work to provide evidence of those “promises” Welch claims were made.

The city refers to the SARP as the HGP (“Historic Gas Plant”) development in order to avoid the word “stadium” and the $2 billion in taxpayer subsidies that the Tampa Bay Rays and associated companies would receive as part of the proposed deal.

Notably, the Request for Proposal for the SARP said right in the title that it is “for the development of the Historic gas plant site” despite the authorizing law requiring redevelopment (not development)

That infamous law is Florida’s infamous Community Development Agency (CRA) law. It is a law that requires a finding by a municipality that  “one or more slum or blighted areas, or one or more areas in which there is a shortage of housing affordable to residents of low or moderate income, including the elderly” exists before a CRA is created. It grants the power of eminent domain to a CRA, which is the power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use in exchange for just compensation.

The CRA law is so broad that it allows politicians to argue that, for example, downtown Dunedin is an area that to this day still needs a CRA. The CRA law has also led to uncritical and cozy relationships between Chambers of Commerce, cities and deep-pocketed economic interests who donate to the campaigns of said politicians.

PROMISES? Here are your promises!

When the Gas Plant District was originally flattened, it was a straightforward (albeit highly questionable) eminent domain action in exchange for the “just compensation” that the law requires. But the city’s own records show that no additional “promises” were made to the “27 businesses and 859 total employed persons in the Gas Plant Area” affected at the time (official city figures).

The city’s largest CRA is the 4,777 acre (7.46 square miles) South St. Petersburg CRA. That CRA includes the Childs Park area and receives only a fraction of the $2 billion in subsidies that the city is putting into the 86 acre (0.13 square miles) SARP. Also, this recent investigative reporting found that the highest percentage of corporate buyers of homes in Pinellas County are in the South St. Petersburg CRA, thereby pushing black residents out of the neighborhood.

What luck for elected officials that constituents are so easily bamboozled. Or are they? Whether Welch’s gas plant gaslighting will succeed remains to be seen.

How can it take Welch three hours to locate evidence of “promises” he repeatedly referenced, evidence that he must have had handy when he made his claims of such promises? Is Welch just making it up as he goes along?

As always….the Guardian reports and the readers decide. Please like our Facebook page to find out when we publish new stories.