The holidays are upon us, and in Lealman, it marks the second year of an effort to build community in an unincorporated area of Pinellas County.
Lealman’s second annual Christmas tree lighting event will be held Dec. 1 at Lealman Park.
The 6:30-8 p.m. family-friendly event was conceived by the Lealman Engagement Events Committee, which includes representatives from Pinellas County, Florida Dream Center, Lealman Fire District, Pinellas County Housing Authority, Lealman Community Association, Lealman Community District Services, St. Petersburg Foundation and Exquisite Events & Marketing.
The Pinellas County Board of Commissioners formed the committee as part of the Lealman Community Redevelopment Area Plan (CRA), which identified nine objectives for improving the quality of life for all Lealman residents, including hosting community events. The first tree lighting in 2022 brought out about 500 residents, and Laura Simkanich, President of the Lealman Community Association, says they anticipate doubling that number this year as families in Leaman see and experience the positive changes happening in the neighborhood.
“I see improvement and I see the community coming together,” said Simkanich, a lifelong Lealman resident. “People have said, ‘Thank you for doing this. All I had to do was walk to it. I rode my bike to it.’ We need stuff like that because everything is either in St. Pete or Kenneth City or Clearwater. A lot of people can’t go there or they don’t want to fight the crowds.”
Although most of the community improvement initiatives happening in Lealman are funded through the CRA and the county, the past year of events have been free to attend due to sponsors like Duke Energy, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Crown Automotive and Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties. Local leaders have also been working to create and foster a community identity through the Lealman Voice newsletter and a program to address blight by “cleaning and clearing” the 176 alleys in the community.
“I see neighbors cleaning up some of the alleys and saying, ‘Thank you for doing that, now I’ll keep it clean,’” said Simkanich. “We didn’t get this way overnight. We’ve been like this and we have fought for money to get improvements.”
As Lealman’s roster of events grows, community leaders say they hope those from outside the area come to see what Lealman has to offer. Plans are already taking shape for Lealman’s second annual Honey and Arts Festival, which will be held Feb. 10.