St. Pete is abuzz about prospects for redo of The Trop7 development groups are vying to transform the ballpark, neighborhood

As downtown St. Petersburg buzzes with activity from the St. Pete Pier and Bay Street to Central Avenue and the Warehouse Arts District, the Tropicana Field site that is home to the Tampa Bay Rays remains unchanged, a sprawling parking lot around a domed stadium that has more in common with Houston’s 1960s-era Astrodome than today’s modern ballparks.

“There’s a big doughnut hole right there in the middle of the city,” says Alan DeLisle, the city’s development administrator. “It has key neighborhoods on all sides and our transportation system comes to a hub there.”

Now, seven development groups are vying to win the city’s bid to transform the Trop site into a mixed-use area that connects and enhances the divergent downtown districts around it.

Jason Mathis, the CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, a nonprofit business group promoting economic development in the downtown, says the Tropicana Field site is a unique opportunity in not only Florida but the country.

“To have a single, publicly-owned parcel this large available for redevelopment is pretty exciting,” Mathis says. “And we’re fortunate to have a major urban redevelopment opportunity like this when we already have a growing, vibrant downtown, a burgeoning Warehouse Arts District, Deuces Live, the Grand Central District. Often, a city will have a major development opportunity because it is blighted. That’s not the case here. This can enhance what’s already going on. It’s being built on a foundation of strength, not blight.”
 
The Trop site’s size and prime location and downtown’s existing momentum attracted a group of development teams with extensive experience and national, in some cases international, portfolio.

“It’s an amazing piece of land and we are really happy with the proposals we’ve received and the quality of the developers,” DeLisle says. “We are excited about the response we got and happy to be in the place where we are.”
 
The city’s must-haves 

St. Petersburg crafted 21 “guiding principles” that serve as the ground rules and framework for the redevelopment. Under them, the Trop property must include a hotel and conference center, and the restoration of Booker Creek from a retention canal into a centerpiece of a development that has ample parks and greenspace. Retail has to include small and independent businesses. Arts and culture have to have a presence. There has to be residential for various income levels. The development has to create jobs and include office space with a focus on the city’s Grow Smarter target industries. There has to be space for research, higher education, and innovation. And multiple proposals include an innovation and research campus setting. 

Alison Barlow, the executive director of the St. Pete Innovation District, an organization representing the health care, higher education, and research institutions in that district, says the innovation, jobs, and research hub the city envisions as part of the redevelopment, along with the modern walkable development, will “help create a community that has a young, vibrant workforce.”

A city that once saw its young talent leave for jobs in other parts of the country will continue to transform itself into a destination for young talent, she says. 

Barlow says the Trop Site can be the “connective tissue” linking the neighborhoods around it. For the neighboring Innovation District, the redevelopment can help meet a pressing need for more space for companies and institutions looking to bring in higher-wage jobs.

“One thing that excites me about the Trop is we have the opportunity to put very different types of organizations side-by-side and see what they can create together,” Barlow says. 

The site also has to provide a benefit to the larger community in areas such as employment goals, living wages, small business participation, workforce training opportunities, affordable housing, child care opportunities and early childhood programs, transportation and mobility improvements, and sustainability initiatives. 

With the Rays’ future in St. Petersburg uncertain, each development group has a scenario that includes a baseball stadium and one that does not. While the proposals have to include a vision for accommodating a new stadium, the developer will not be building the stadium as part of their project. 

“The city was pretty clear about its goals and priorities,” DeLisle says. “It was not an easy RFP (request for proposals) to respond to. They really had to do their homework.”

In fact, city government eliminated two of the nine proposals submitted for not meeting its requirements.
 
The site’s future also has to commemorate its past. In the 1980s, the predominantly-black Gas Plant neighborhood was razed to make way for the stadium, a move that displaced residents and tore down churches, schools, and businesses in an area already isolated because of the construction of the interstate. 

In addition to historical markers and the extension of St. Petersburg’s African American Heritage Trail included in some proposals, the city says the redevelopment has to reconnect to the predominantly black neighborhoods to the south both physically and through community outreach, small business opportunities, and workforce development.

“One thing that has to be a part of this is fulfilling the promises made when those predominantly African-American communities were razed to make way for Tropicana Field,” Mathis says. “The developer needs to build a relationship with the African-American communities in St. Petersburg and make sure they have a voice throughout the process.”
 
Below are details of the various redevelopment proposals. 

Midtown Development 

Miami-based Midtown Development leads a team proposing a mixed-use development called Creekside. They envision 30 blocks of new development built in phases over 20 to 30 years. The plan includes a $30 million investment in parks and 10,000 residential units, including 1,000 green-certified units for affordable and moderate-income housing.
 
The pedestrian-friendly, smart-city focused development would center around a restored, rerouted Booker Creek running north-south and an east-west greenway. 

The plans include a central park, walking bridges across the creek, a water pavilion, and “pods,” or small island features with trees to sit and lounge. 

The east end of the site includes Grow Smarter commercial development focused on the city’s Grow Smarter industries, an Innovation Campus, and a Hotel & Conference Center. The middle of the site with Booker Creek is envisioned as a destination and entertainment center. To the west, 16th Street will be a neighborhood Main Street.
 
“Each distinct area will have a mixture of every use, catered to the community’s input of what will best serve the city based on location.” the proposal reads. “Each area will have micro-retail and office opportunities that address the needs of various income groups. A truly vibrant place will operate day and night, weekday and weekend, with large and small events.”

Midtown Development’s portfolio includes, among other projects, the $2 billion Midtown Miami redevelopment in that city’s downtown.
 
Portman Holdings, Third Lake Partners
 

Atlanta-based Portman Holdings, whose portfolio includes Peachtree Center, the largest mixed-use development in Atlanta is the master developer for a project estimated to cost $2.3 billion with a ballpark and $2.6 billion without one. The bid envisions a new 30,000 seat baseball stadium on the west side of the property, an urban stadium entwined with the city. If the Rays depart the site, a creative arts and manufacturing district could instead occupy that stadium site. A technology-focused research campus and office space for everything from underserved entrepreneurs to large corporate tenants.

Third Avenue South would be a primary east-west corridor through the property, a” gateway promenade” to the urban ballpark on the west. A ballpark plaza would be a hub of activity on game days and also host community events.

Where Booker Creek and the Pinellas Trail intersect, there would be “a small, communal collection of shops and restaurants” known as Creekside Village overlooking the creek.

At the intersection of 2nd Avenue South and 11th Street, an urban plaza known as Market Square would include a supermarket, neighborhood services, restaurants, cafes, arcades, and pedestrian alleyways.
 
SROA, Holabird & Root, ARGO
 

Storage Rentals of America (SROA) leads a development team that proposes up to 2,940 residential units -- half market-rate and half affordable -- and as many as four hotels.

The plans include a tech campus, an office campus, a town square, a cultural pavilion and sculpture trail, a baseball museum, and mixed-use buildings that include live/work spaces, art, and design spaces, and offices.
 
In addition to its portfolio of self-storage properties, SROA has developed student and affordable housing projects and other members of the development team have worked on large-scale military campus projects.
 
Sugar Hill Community Partners, JMA Ventures
 

San Francisco-based JMA Ventures is the master developer on a redevelopment project that includes two visions -- SugarHill Commons if there is no ballpark and SugarHill Parks if a 25,000-seat stadium is built on the property. 

Details include a 650,000-square-foot convention center with a 500-room hotel and minority-owned brewery in partnership with 3 Daughters Brewing and the Florida Brewers Guild. A 500,000-square-foot technology campus includes space for a Florida location of AltaSea, a research and technology center at Port of Los Angeles focused on the emerging blue economy. With the Innovation District and the University of South Florida College of Marine Science nearby, the group thinks AltaSea could replicate its success in Los Angeles here.
 
Greenspace includes an 11-acre park anchored on Booker Creek. The plan also includes an urban beach on the banks of the restored creek.

Without a baseball stadium, the development plan includes four distinct districts -- a convention center, residential village, office space, innovation campus. A public plaza near the convention center is envisioned as a “civic stage.”

There’s also a plan for a park with splash pads under I-275 leading to The Warehouse Arts District and Deuces Live.

The scenario with a baseball stadium sees the stadium as a year-round entertainment venue that can host the Rays, the Rowdies, concerts, and other events.

The developers’ have a stated goal of developing 35 to 40 percent of the residential housing as affordable. 

TRS Development Services 

The Tampa offices of national firms Ryan Companies US and Brennan Investment Group are the lead developers on a proposal called SkyWave.

Plans include three luxury residential towers -- the “Solarium,” the “Octagon,” and the “Cruciform” that range from 45 to 50 stories.
 
A wellness trail would run along a restored Booker Creek.

There are plans for a business incubator to support locally owned businesses, mixed-use development of residential and boutique retail along First Avenue South, and “William’s Quarter,” an affordable housing community of up to 240 residences in the southeast area of the property. A state-of-the-art open-air stadium would go on the same spot where Tropicana Field now stands. Without the ballpark, that site is envisioned as a 200,000 square foot research campus.
 
Unicorp National Developments 

A team headed by Orlando-based Unicorp National Developments seeks to transform the Trop site into Petersburg Parks, a series of parks that would serve as a central city park and community gathering place for special events, festivals, and a family day at the park.

The plan has four focus areas: nature, the arts, healthy living, and learning. 

Unicorp says local, regional, and international artists, sculptors, and musicians can transform the area into an international arts destination, boosting the existing arts community and businesses in the area.

Along north Booker Creek, there would be park space, plazas, and outdoor dining. 

A central park includes a grand lawn, a covered community pavilion, a covered stage, walkways, gardens, kiosks for dining and retail, even a putting green.

A waterfront dining and retail space, The Basin, includes decorative plaza spaces, a fountain, and outdoor dining. 

A South Booker Creek Park would connect to the Roser Park and Campbell Park communities and residential townhomes planned in that area of the Trop development.

A Sunburst Plaza would serve as a gateway to a smaller Rays stadium and have an open lawn for events.
 
While the park space is the focus, the Unicorp plan does include the office and research elements called for in the city’s plan. 

Wendover Housing Partners
 

Altamonte Springs-based Wendover Housing Partners, which builds affordable housing for families and active seniors, leads a development team with plans for mixed-income housing, including affordable and workforce housing, two office towers, street-level retail, restaurants, and entertainment throughout the development, the Booker Creek restoration and a new, smaller ballpark in the northeast area of the property, near the hotel/conference center, retail and office development. 

The developers want to surround the stadium with ground floor retail and restaurants to create a hub of activity.

The team seeks to attract a career academy that blends traditional curriculum with skills training and industry work experience.

The southwest corner of the site is eyed for a 250,000-square-foot research and tech campus. 

Next Steps
 

DeLisle says the city has a 27-member committee reviewing the proposals. They will submit feedback to Mayor Rick Kriseman who will then decide on a shortlist of two to four development teams. Additional community outreach will follow. Eventually, the mayor will select a developer and negotiations will start on an agreement that will eventually go to the City Council for a vote. DeLisle says staff hopes to finish the process this year.
 
One part of the negotiations will be the level of financial assistance from the city. At this point, St. Petersburg has pledged to put at least $75 million toward infrastructure improvements on the site. There is also a portal on the city’s website for public feedback. 

To view the seven development proposals and the city’s request for proposals and submit feedback, follow this link to the Tropicana Field Site.
 

Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry is a freelance writer living in Clearwater. Chris spent more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys our local music scene, great weather, and Florida's wealth of outdoor festivals.
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