Despite the looming 2027 expiration of the Tampa Bay Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch has decided to throw out two years of work and restart the Trop site RFP process, which kicked off in July 2020, from scratch.
In a Wednesday news conference and a statement posted on the city’s website, Welch says pandemic-driven challenges of the past two years necessitate a fresh approach to the future of the 86-acre site, home to a predominantly Black neighborhood known as the Gas Plant prior to being redeveloped in the 1980s as part of an attempt to reel in a major pro sports franchise.
Prior to leaving office, Welch’s predecessor, Rick Kriseman, had selected Miami-based Midtown Development to handle the property's next makeover. But Welch never committed to honoring Kriseman’s pick and expressed interest in the plan presented by the other finalist in the RFP process, Sugar Hill Community Partners, a group led by JMA Ventures, based in San Francisco.
“I am impressed with the efforts from the two finalists in the current RFP process — Midtown Development and Sugar Hill Community Partners,” Welch says. “They have listened to our community and have responded with their vision of the development of these 86 acres in accordance with our community needs in terms of housing, office space, meeting space, green space and impactful economic development, including inclusive opportunities for local and minority businesses.”
He adds, “However, our environment has changed in many ways since the initial RFP was issued in July of 2020, and we must ensure the RFP meets our current environment and realities and incorporates the most up-to-date information.”
Midtown Development responded to Welch’s decision with a statement of its own that seems to indicate it will not respond to the new RFP, which is expected to launch in August, with bids due by the end of October and a final selection made by the end of the year.
“Midtown Development has been honored to spend the last few years working with our partners in the city of St. Petersburg on the Tropicana Field RFP,” Midtown Development Principal Alex Vadia says in the statement. “We have made many friends in the St. Petersburg community, including Watson Haynes of the Pinellas County Urban League. We are truly grateful for their friendship. 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.”
Sugar Hill Community Partners also reacted to the news with a statement, which was more forward-looking.
“We appreciate Mayor Welch’s thoughtful approach to the Tropicana Field redevelopment and respect his decision to continue the evaluation process,” the firm states. “We have worked tirelessly since fall 2020 to develop, expand and refine our community-driven vision for the Tropicana site: an inclusive, sustainable neighborhood that is a catalyst for job creation and economic growth. We look forward to continuing that effort as we move to the next phase of the selection process.”
The statement continues, “With respect to the Rays, Sugar Hill Community Partners has deep experience developing stadium and stadium-anchored districts. We accordingly welcome the opportunity to work with Mayor Welch and the Rays to fully assess opportunities for a new ballpark at the Trop and to ensure that the project creates maximum value for St. Petersburg.”