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Photo via cityofstpete/Flickr

Last Tuesday, the city of St. Petersburg held its first community conversation on the future of the historic Manhattan Casino.

The five year lease between the city and Callaloo/Urban Collective ended this month and the city is looking for input on next steps.

Last Tuesday, the city of St. Petersburg held its first community conversation on the future of the historic Manhattan Casino. The Center of Equity hosted the forum, with 150 in attendance in-person and over 70 online. The meeting, notably, wasn’t held at the Manhattan Casino.

Built in 1925 by African American leader Elder Jordan Sr., the Manhattan hosted legendary musical performances in its heyday. Originally called the Jordan Dance Hall, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch described growing up around the Manhattan Casino.

“Famous folks came to the Manhattan,” Welch said last Tuesday. “Folks like Ray Charles and Nat King Cole, and Louis Armstrong, just to name a few.”

An infamous stop on the Chitlin’ circuit, the Manhattan is living history that many newcomers to St. Pete might not even know. It’s history from a time when St. Pete was racially segregated and venues like the Coliseum—just four miles away—were closed to Blacks.

“African Americans were relegated to the southside of St. Petersburg. They couldn’t go uptown, except to work. My grandfather had the vision to open a place where African Americans could come and socialize,” Rev. Dr. Basha Jordan, Jr., grandson of Elder Jordan Sr., said. “The Manhattan casino or Jordan dance hall was suddenly like the the Apollo Theater of the South.”

The community conversation was structured similarly to the Gas Plant redevelopment talks. There’s the structured intro presentation complete with sleek videos, and then mobile polling and word clouds, ending with breakout groups. It’s the city’s way of listening, or at least appearing to.

One attendee pointed out the polls aren’t the same as an actual conversation.

“We really want this to be a facilitated conversation,” Center for Equity director Marcus Brooks said. “Otherwise, it’ll be a free-for-all.”

By the numbers, over 80% agreed the site needs a food concept and event space for rent (two things it had previously). Those polled disagreed on having retail space, social services or city services on-site, and 50% agreed there should be some kind of space for the arts or a museum.

“The conversation doesn’t end tonight,” Brooks said. “The community can continue to share their thoughts.”

Input can be submitted to the city via

Another Manhattan Casino conversation is happening, this one rather un-sanctioned by the city, on Wednesday, Nov. 9. Unlike the city’s talk, this one takes place at the Manhattan at 6 p.m.

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