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Business Observer Sunday, May 29, 2022 6 months ago

Local pastors back Sugar Hill group for Tropicana Field redevelopment

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St. Petersburg's mayor is just weeks away from a decision on the site of Tropicana Field.
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

The wait is nearly over.

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch is set to announce his decision on which development group will lead the redevelopment of the 86-acre Tropicana Field site by the end of June. This, after sending the two development groups a set of 15 follow-up questions in April.

Welch’s decision will either reaffirm his predecessor Rick Kriseman's announcement in December, just a few weeks before leaving office, that Miami-based Midtown Development would redevelop the site, or he’ll choose a team comprised of Sugar Hill Community Partners, led by San Francisco-based developer JMA Ventures. 

At this point, which project Welch'll pick is anyone’s guess.

But if a group of influential Black pastors have their way, Welch will go with the Sugar Hill team.

To make sure the mayor knows where they stand, the pastors held a press conference May 19 at the Cross & Anvil Human Services center just south, and in the shadows, of Tropicana Field.

Speaking to a group of about 30 community members and gathered media, the faith leaders say the $3 billion Sugar Hill project was a better fit for the Black community because it honored the neighborhood’s long history as well offered affordable, attainable and workforce housing.

Tropicana Field was built on the site of the Gas Plant neighborhood, a historic Black community displaced by the construction of Interstate 175 and the stadium. The pastors say the Sugar Hill project will go a long way toward restoring that lost sense of community.

“Our mayor is a fact-based decision maker. And we believe this particular organization, Sugar Hill, is sweet,” says Rev. Clarence Williams, a pastor at Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church. “We support it and we believe it’s best, not only for our city but for our people.”

The pastors’ decision was made after a trip to Sacramento, California, where the development group has completed a similar project that included a basketball arena downtown. They were impressed by both the project and the support the city was able to garner.

Leading that visit and helping sell Sugar Hill, is the former mayor of California’s capital, and a former NBA player, Kevin Johnson who is part of the Sugar Hill development team.

Johnson was at the press conference and says the first call he’d make if Sugar Hill is awarded the project is to the Tampa Bay Rays. He says the team will have an opportunity to be part of the development if it wants. If not, the project will go on.

As for Welch, he issued a statement after the pastors spoke.

“We appreciate and share the community’s passion for this vital generational project. My evaluation process continues and our city staff continues their due diligence. We will adhere to our procurement protocol until a decision is made.”

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