The Tampa Bay Rays are in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season and the ninth time in franchise history.
But this year feels a little different says St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Chris Steinocher. The cloud of uncertainty that’s hovered over the Sunshine City for more than 15 years has lifted now that the City of St. Petersburg, the Rays and Pinellas County have a stadium deal in place to keep the team in St. Pete and move the massive redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site forward.
“There were a lot of divine moments in this,” Steinocher says. “Everybody came together at the right time. And how fun is it going to be that for the first time in our playoff history, and we’ve had a long, beautiful one, every fan will be able to go, ‘We’re here to stay.’ It’s going to change everybody’s perspective a little bit.”
As redevelopment downtown boomed, corporate offices relocated to St. Pete and bustling business districts emerged along the Central Avenue corridor from downtown to the Grand Central District, Steinocher says the looming question of whether the Rays would stay or go took a little luster off the city’s bright economic picture.
To the Chamber, the Rays are a key ingredient in the unique mix of things to do around downtown and a major contributor to the larger economy and community. Back in January, when four development teams were vying for the Tropicana Field site project, the Chamber organization endorsed the Rays' proposal.
Now, the Rays and the city have announced an agreement on a 30,000-seat indoor ballpark that will open in 2028. It will be a centerpiece of the massive mixed-use redevelopment that the team and its partner Hines, one of the largest real estate developers in the world, plan on the 86-acre Tropicana Field site.
“It’s not just about the Rays,” Steinocher says. “The most important part for our community is those 86 acres are going to become something that everyone is going to benefit from. While we are excited about the stadium and the Rays, the most important thing for us is getting this redevelopment right, honoring some promises and making sure the neighbors really feel like this is their neighborhood. We’re not going to just have a parking lot. We are going to have a community. I would say the majority of St. Pete is as excited that we are going to build the next great neighborhood as we are that we are going to build the next great stadium.”
By the numbers
A press statement from Hines describes the $6.5 billion, 20-year redevelopment project will be the largest mixed-use development in the Tampa Bay region’s history. The plan includes 1.4 million square feet of office, medical and commercial space; 750,000 square feet of retail; 90,000 to 100,000 square feet of conference, meeting and ballroom space; 750 hotel rooms, 14 acres of open greenspace and 14,000 parking spaces. A total of 100,000 square feet of entertainment space will include a concert venue with a capacity of up to 4,000. Fifty thousand square feet of civic space will include a new home for the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum.
There will be 4,500 residential units, including 600 senior living units. The Rays and Hines say they will build 1,200 units of affordable and workforce housing between the Tropicana Field site and other areas of St. Pete.
More than three decades ago, the city displaced the predominantly Black Gas Plant neighborhood to make way for a stadium to attract a Major League Baseball franchise. Promises made at the time to bring in jobs and affordable housing to help displaced residents and workers went unfulfilled.
“We are duty bound with our intentional efforts to honor the broken promises made to the Historic Gas Plant community, an incredibly special place that my own family called home,” St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, whose family lived in the Gas Plant District, says in a press statement. “Our strong partnership with Pinellas County and the Hines-Rays group is coupling opportunity with hope, linking jobs to economic growth, fulfilling a commitment to minority business participation, and building thousands of residential units, including a significant number of affordable and workforce housing to uplift families and strengthen neighborhoods.”
The team and Hines plan to put $50 million toward equity initiatives in South St. Petersburg, including affordable housing funding, employment and business support, educational programs and hiring commitments for minority and women-owned businesses.
The St. Petersburg City Council and the Pinellas County Commission still have to approve a combined $600 million in public funding for the $1.3 billion stadium for the stadium project to move forward. Welch has said the city will pay its $300 million contribution by “bonding of a number of revenue streams, none of which are property taxes, and we’re doing it without any new taxes or any increase in current taxes," according to Adam Berry of MLB.com. Pinellas County is expected to fund its $300 million contribution through the bed tax that funds tourism-related projects. Both boards are expected to start the approval process this fall.
Construction on the stadium and the first phase of the redevelopment are planned to begin in late 2024. The Rays will play in Tropicana Field through the 2027 season, with the new stadium and the first phase of the redevelopment expected to be ready by Opening Day 2028.
For more information, go to Gas Plant District Redevelopment.
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