In St. Petersburg, four visions to redevelop Tropicana Field property

More than 30 years after St. Petersburg razed the predominantly African American Gas Plant neighborhood to make way for a stadium to attract a Major League Baseball franchise, four competing development teams are vying to redevelop the Tropicana Field property with a multi-billion dollar, mixed-use project that city officials envision as a way to follow through on the unfulfilled promises made to the community displaced to build the Trop, while continuing St. Pete’s transformation into a bustling 21st-century city.

The public interest in the project is intense. A January 4th community meeting on the proposals at The Coliseum drew an audience of more than 700 in person and online. At the meeting, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, who grew up in the Gas Plant District, said the city is looking for a “transformational project” that brings the jobs and housing the city pledged to deliver to the community displaced for the stadium back in the 1980s.

Must-haves

To meet the criteria of the city’s 23 “guiding principles” for the redevelopment, each proposal shares common elements. They are mixed-use with retail, mixed-income residential, office space, a flagship hotel with a conference center and have an innovation, research or higher education presence. There have to be workforce and job training opportunities on-site, a focus on economic equity and opportunities for small and minority and women-owned businesses. The development needs to bring in jobs in the target industries of the city’s Grow Smarter Strategy.  There has to be park and open space, with a focus on the Pinellas Trail and a restored Booker Creek, as well as culture and the arts. 

There needs to be initiatives and investments to meet the goals of the city’s Community Benefit Program, which focuses on employment goals, living wages, small business participation, workforce training opportunities, affordable housing, childcare opportunities and early childhood programs, transportation and mobility improvements and sustainability initiatives for the city’s South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area.

The walkable development has to connect to the surrounding neighborhoods and the larger multi-modal transportation system, including the new SunRunner bus rapid transit system and any future BRT. The development has to feature smart city technology and align with St. Pete’s resiliency and sustainability initiatives.

The development has to commemorate and honor the site’s history as a historic Black neighborhood, promote cultural diversity and connect to south St. Petersburg “physically, economically and emotionally,” including communities such as Campbell Park and The Deuces that the construction of Interstate 175 decades ago separated from the downtown core.

The plan has to include space for a baseball stadium, should the Rays and the city reach an agreement to keep the baseball team on the site. The city is handling the stadium negotiations as a separate process from the redevelopment of the larger site.

Moving forward

Welch will announce his selected development team during his January 30th State of the City address. Prior to that, the public can provide feedback online at the city website or in person at six “pop-up stations” until January 23rd. The St. Petersburg City Council has the final approval authority over an agreement with the selected development team. City administration expects that vote to happen in September or October.

Here are some details on each development proposal:

50 Plus 1 Sports

Coral Gables-based 50 Plus 1 Sports leads a development team that includes design, construction and engineering firm AECOM, which has significant experience designing and developing several mixed-use projects and sports complexes.

Their plans for the Trop site include 375,000 square feet of retail, 825,000 square feet of hotel and conference center space, nearly 1.4 million square feet of office space, 176,000 square feet of cultural space and nearly 497,000 square feet of park space. The development team says 50 percent of its planned 6,700 on-site apartments will be affordable and workforce housing and plans a $5 million investment in job training and apprentice programs related to the project.

During the January 4th community meeting, Monti Valrie, the principal land managing partner of 50 Plus 1 Sports, says his plan is to fund $800 million for the construction of a new baseball stadium in exchange for the right to redevelop the land around the ballpark. Instead of purchasing the site from the city, he proposes a zero-cost 99-year lease with the city in exchange for sharing project revenues with the city. 

During the January 4th meeting, Valrie highlighted the fact that his company is 100 percent minority-owned. He said he feels in many cases, a development team preparing a project brings in a minority-owned firm simply to meet a participation requirement for submitting a proposal. In this case, he’s taking the lead. He also noted that his proposal would have 50 percent business participation from minority, women, veteran and service-disabled-veteran-owned businesses. 

“It’s not about how much money you make, it’s about how many people you hire because that’s what turns a community around,” Valrie said.

Hines and Tampa Bay Rays

Real estate investment and development firm Hines and the Rays lead a development team vying for a “generationally important project,” as Rays President Brian Auld described the redevelopment at the January 4th community meeting.

Hines previously submitted a proposal back in 2008, when plans for the Rays to move to a waterfront stadium and the Trop site to be redeveloped fell through. The Hines/Rays team proposes  5,278 residential units, 1.4 million square feet of office, 320,000 square feet of retail, 700 total hotel rooms and 14 acres of public space. 

They plan a total of 1,459 affordable housing units, with 859 of them on site. They propose a $15 million contribution to home ownership and rental assistance programs to go toward 600 affordable housing units in other areas of the city. That is part of a planned $50 million investment in equity initiatives that include workforce training, business assistance, internship, cultural, educational and other programs focused on former Gas Plant residents and business owners and residents and businesses in South St. Petersburg. They also propose a $5 million multi-cultural incubator “that will include a cooperative working space for diverse entities including non-profits, businesses, and entrepreneurs to work and collaborate in scalable business space.”

The proposal envisions a 30,000-seat ballpark with a roof, windows and outdoor terraces that will open in 2028 and be the focal point of a surrounding walkable, mixed-use district with retail and events. The city is handling stadium negotiations and the redevelopment of the larger property separately and details on the projected cost and funding of the new stadium are not included in the Hines/Rays proposal.

Local historian Gwendolyn Reese, the president of the African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg, has joined the Hines/Rays team as a community representative. At the January 4th meeting, Reese praised the development team's community outreach efforts. She pointed to a late November dinner event organized to meet with and listen to former residents and business owners from the Gas Plant district. 

Restoration Associates

The Restoration Associates team consists primarily of Tampa Bay firms, including master developer RGA Design, the Onicx Group/Dr. Kieran Patel, Invictus Communities and Brennan Investment Group, a national firm with Tampa offices. RGA Design was previously part of a team that submitted a proposal when the Trop redevelopment and a new stadium were under consideration in 2008. 

The centerpiece of their plan is to shut down I-175 and construct in its place a $350 million “intermodal center” with parking for nearly 7,000 vehicles. That would create an auto-free new development, new parking for Rays fans should the team stay on site, and free up the stadium’s current parking lot for redevelopment, E. William Henry with RGA Design said at the January 4th community meeting. 

“Remove the great divider, I-175…Let’s get out of the 20th century please and transform this development into a transit-oriented development,” Henry said.

Plans for the intermodal center rely on obtaining federal funding from the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

The Restoration Associates plan proposes keeping the Rays in a renovated Tropicana Field. During the community meeting, Henry said that, given the years of talking about a new stadium without results so far,  the idea there will be funding or enough time to get a new stadium open in Tampa Bay by 2028 is unrealistic. 

Their plan also includes a $425 million high-tech research and development park and 2,350 affordable/attainable housing units, with that growing to 3,350 units if there is no baseball stadium on site. Their first phase of construction is a large self-storage unit, which could help finance future phases of development. 

Sugar Hill Community Partners

Sugar Hill Community Partners is the only development team that submitted a proposal under former Mayor Rick Kriseman to return after Welch restarted the process. JMA Ventures, a San Francisco-area firm led by former Sacramento Mayor and NBA star Kevin Johnson is the master developer for the Sugar Hill team.

Since their proposal under the Kriseman administration, Sugar Hill has expanded its affordable housing team to include three organizations with a significant local presence: Blue Sky Communities, the St. Petersburg Housing Authority and PMG Affordable, the Miami firm leading the redevelopment of Robles Park Village for the Tampa Housing Authority. Sugar Hill pledges that 50 percent of its residential development, more than 2,600 units, will be workforce or affordable housing.

Sugar Hill proposes a $60 million community equity endowment, with one-third of that money going to an affordable housing program in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties that will purchase vacant and underused lots in south St. Petersburg to build more than 300 single-family homes.

Another third of that endowment fund will provide grants to small minority and women-owned businesses to help with startup and operating costs and leasing business space in the development area. Launching a mentorship program in partnership with 3 Daughters Brewing and the Florida Brewing Guild, Sugar Hill also plans to have a minority-owned brewery open on-site. The endowment would also provide funding to other community nonprofits.

At the January 4th community meeting, Johnson said Sugar Hill has a detailed plan to benefit the community in its proposal, but the proof is putting it into action.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to make good and the promises we’ve made to the community over the last couple of years and we plan to do that,” he said.

The development design has 16th Street South as the main north-south artery through the development. Uses with a larger footprint,  like an urban grocery store, a pharmacy, a fitness center and an urgent care clinic, are planned along First Avenue South. Smaller shops are envisioned along Second Avenue South.

For more information and the full proposals from each development team, please go to Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment.
 

Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.