ST. PETERSBURG — The water won in the end.
A proposal that linked 85 downtown acres that are home to Tropicana Field to an already vibrant waterfront was selected by a seven-member committee on Friday as a crucial next step in the city's redevelopment.
A Dallas firm, HKS Architects, designed the winning concept, beating out six other firms. In its design, Central Avenue and First avenues N and S would connect the Trop site to Tampa Bay.
"That was visionary," said city development administrator Alan DeLisle, the city's top economic development official. "The way (HKS) talked about it being a waterfront project."
HKS proposed providing more shade and a revitalized Booker Creek, the small stream that runs near the Trop, to create a more walkable environment that would draw people there on the 284 days that the Tampa Bay Rays don't play.
Representatives with HKS, a global firm whose urban design shop is in New York City, were thrilled to get the job
"We're super excited," said vice president Julie Hiromoto,
For HKS, the water theme was elementary.
"This entire area is all about water," she said.
Tampa Bay Rays executives have voiced their desire to have water be a part — somehow — of a new stadium. Hiromoto said her firm didn't know that.
HKS will have to work fast. The city wants a master plan that includes a new stadium for the Rays by Sept. 30. First, the city will have to agree to terms, like a price, with HKS, which has also worked on projects related to the Washington Nationals and Colorado Rockies' ballparks. The Rays have agreed to contribute up to $100,000. A downtown waterfront master plan completed last year cost just under $500,000.
Once the September deadline is met, the city wants the plan to focus on how the site can be developed without a stadium.
The two-track process is designed to meet the timeline created when the City Council in January allowed the club to look outside the city for a new home.
Although the team has three years to decide, it's very possible it may decide on a site by the end of the year. To have a complete master plan in the hands of Rays executives by the end of the regular season was an important goal for city officials.
The seven finalists all had some intriguing ideas for the site. Littlejohn Engineering Associates proposed demolishing I-175 to build connections between downtown and neighborhoods north of Central Avenue with Campbell Park and other parts of Midtown.
Everyone agreed that the Trop — with or without a ballpark and done right — has the chance to be the city's crown jewel, rivaling even the fabled waterfront.
"The pier is important, but it's out in the water," said Jose Fernandez of Littlejohn.
Potentially worth billions, the site's redevelopment has sparked excitement and drawn interest from global development heavyweights.
But it's also worried poor residents to the south of the Trop, who are concerned they may be pushed out. That theme was raised again and again by the selection committee, especially Pinellas County Urban League CEO Watson Haynes and Urban Affairs director Nikki Gaskin-Capehart. The predominantly-black Gas Plant community was demolished to make way for the Trop in the 1980s.
"I'm still concerned that whatever company is selected has some sense of the people that were displaced and how to rectify that," said Haynes.