As a late edition to the Jan. 24 St. Petersburg City Council meeting, Mayor Bill Foster provided an update on plans to ensure Midtown does not lose its grocery store.
Foster talked about his ongoing efforts to get in touch with the right people with Sweetbay and if that did not work, he hoped to have another grocery vendor fill the store.
From there, the tensions rose as accusations were made, gavels slammed and insults thrown as council members Wengay Newton and Leslie Curran questioned Foster's plans and his handling of the Midtown Sweetbay.
At issue is that despite claiming silence from Sweetbay, is the report that Foster met with Sweetbay officials in April 2011 about the struggling store. Foster said his calendar shows he met with Sweetbay then but he recalls no talk of a struggling store or pending closure.
Newton and Curran do not buy Foster's story.
"This is par for the course," Newton said. "With the Rays, never heard nothing, never got talked to. Everything was a secret. And now this has come to head. They are definitely going to close that store."
Newton said he was "heartbroken" over the store closing and said it could single handedly kill the Midtown community.
"All the momentum has been sucked out of that area," Newton added. "When that place goes dark, all the ancillary businesses are going to go with it."
Curran said the store's closure could have been prevented and that this situation is part of a continued disturbing trend from the Foster administration of not getting its story straight.
"... Because of the pattern that was presented, when you talked about the Rays, a secret plan, then there was the RNC, then the cameras, then the house was torn down, that story’s changed four or five times," Curran said.
When someone from Sweetbay says they met with Foster, Curran said there is no reason not to believe Sweetbay.
Foster fired back saying neither his staff nor himself got any indications from Sweetbay that the store was headed for closure or in a dire financial situation.
"Nothing was expressed to me that there were financial issues with this store," Foster said.
Foster said he expects the store will close but he hopes the store will only go dark for a short period of time.
"It is too important to have a grocery store at the Midtown location," he said. "And we are not going to rest until we get that."
The Sweetbay located in the Tangerine Plaza at 1794 22nd St. S, is set to close by mid-February. However, since the pending closure was announced Jan. 16 shipments have stopped coming to the store.
Little to no fresh produce or meats are available and store shelves are almost barren. Once all the products are gone, the store will auction off remaining items.
Council member Karl Nurse, after unsuccessfully trying to calm the meeting down, tried to put perspective into the Sweetbay closure. He said that while Midtown needs a grocery store, its closure would not kill the community.
"Please, it is not in anybody's interest to say that Midtown is going to collapse as a result of this," Nurse said.
He said with nearby home renovations and a planned $15 million project from St. Petersburg College; there is still momentum in Midtown.
"I understand that it's important, but it does not serve our community to try (and say) the world is going to end," Nurse added if Sweetbay closes. "If we do that, it will make it much more difficult to grow what we have there and bring in new people."