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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 26, 2022 3 months ago

Mayor issues RFP for Tropicana Field site, requires acreage set aside for new Rays stadium

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Not long after killing a proposal for a Tropicana Field redevelopment plan, Mayor Ken Welch asks for proposals that also include housing affordability and rights wrongs.
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch has issued a much-anticipated new request for proposal for the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site and is asking prospective developers to keep 17.3 acres available for a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

The new RFP follows Welch’s decision in late June to discard the nearly two-year-long process to choose a developer for the 86-acre property on the eve of an anticipated announcement. At the time, Welch said he wanted a clean slate in order to emphasize the needs of the community and to address issues he deemed critical to the city’s future — and past.

The new request does just that.

Besides the carve-out for a new baseball stadium, the new request includes “specific requirements for affordable and workforce housing and new details that respond to current economic and societal conditions and community sentiment,” according to a statement from the city.

In the previous request issued in 2020, developers were asked to present plans with and without a stadium component and were not required to include workforce and affordable housing.

“As we move forward with this process, it is imperative that we continue to respond to the needs of today and take time to ensure we are getting this project right,” Welch says in a video posted to YouTube. “The development of these 86 acres is a project that will affect our entire community for generations to come.”

In particular, Welch wants to make sure the new development on the site fulfills promises made to residents and business owners of the Gas Plant neighborhood when the stadium was built in the late 1980s. The Gas Plant neighborhood was a historically Black community displaced by the construction of Interstate 175 and the stadium.

While the move eventually brought a long-sought MLB team to the market, the city says promised jobs, opportunities and equitable development never materialized for residents and business owners.

“This is an historic opportunity for our city to utilize a generational redevelopment opportunity to ensure equitable opportunity for all residents, visitors, businesses and stakeholders,” Welch says.

One of the two finalists for the last RFP, Sugar Hill Partners, won the support of a group of local pastors, who thought its plan was a better fit because it honored the neighborhood’s history as well as offering affordable, attainable and workforce housing.

Sugar Hill says in a statement that it will look at the request and prepare a “first-class response.”

“St. Petersburg has a unique opportunity to fulfill the true promise of the site, and we look forward to developing and sharing our vision for the project,” the statement says.

Miami-based Midtown Development, chosen by former Mayor Rick Kriseman to develop the property in his final days in office, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In June, on learning the previous RFP had been canceled, Midtown issued a statement that at least seemed to indicate it wouldn’t participate a second time. “We wish Mayor Ken Welch and the residents of the city of St. Petersburg all the best in their future efforts to redevelop Tropicana Field."

Midtown’s development, called Creekside, was a $2.7 billion project that included residential, retail and office components. The company also committed to building 1,000 low- to moderate-income residential units, would devote roughly $30 million to building parks and other open spaces, and construct 30 new city blocks on 50 acres.

The decision to include a new stadium for the Rays comes at a time when the team, which perpetually succeeds on the field but has abysmally failed at the box office, is deciding if its future is in St. Petersburg, Tampa or one of multiple cities that would welcome a baseball team.

Both Tampa and St. Petersburg have been working for months, if not years, with the team to secure a site and financing for a new stadium. The issue heated up earlier this year when MLB nixed a plan for the Rays to split the season between Tampa Bay and Montreal.

The team's lease expires at the end of the 2027 season.

Welch, who has previously said Al Lang Field was the right place for a new stadium, is now open to keeping it where it is.

Including room for a stadium in the RFP the city was “based on the community’s need for clarity on the question of the Tampa Bay Rays’ future in St. Petersburg.”

The statement continued, “It is imperative that proposals provide certainty on the availability of space for Major League Baseball on the site for decades to come.” 

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