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City Council picks developer for possible Trop overhaul

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council is not ready to say yes to a new stadium.

But it is not ready to say no, either.

The council continued a careful dance Thursday, selecting developers Archstone and Madison Marquette to possibly purchase and redevelop Tropicana Field.

The council voted 6-1 to launch development negotiations with the companies, which are joining for this project under the name Archstone-Madison.

Only council member Leslie Curran voted no, saying there are too many unknown questions to allow serious negotiation to begin. Council chairman Jamie Bennett was on vacation Thursday and did not vote.

"I'm very concerned about the time frame," Curran said shortly after the vote. "This whole thing is way too rushed."

Any redevelopment is contingent on both the city and the developers reaching an agreement to develop the 86-acre property. It also hinges on the outcome of the Rays' proposal for a waterfront stadium.

The Rays stadium proposal, even if approved during a citywide referendum, will not be allowed to move forward unless developers break ground at Tropicana Field, the city said Thursday.

And the proposed Tropicana redevelopment can begin only if a stadium proposal moves ahead, the city said.

Mayor Rick Baker, who has not yet taken a position on the stadium proposal, said he preferred Archstone-Madison to fellow finalist Hines because it created the potential for more jobs and more tax revenue for the city.

If fully built, the Archstone-Madison proposal would create 5,574 permanent jobs and $7.5-million annually in new city taxes. It would include 1.1-million square feet of retail space and almost 2,000 apartments, along with new office space and for-sale condominiums.

But everyone admitted those projections are just that. An Archstone executive even called the plan "shooting for the stars."

Still, council member Karl Nurse said he believed Archstone-Madison offered an appropriate vision for the site. He also tried to compare this prospective development to the failed Bay Plaza project in the late 1980s.

"The strength of the Archstone group is like 25 times, 50 times stronger than the Bay Plaza group," Nurse said.

Council members also started to discuss the possible wording of a referendum, should the council agree to hold a November citywide vote. Along with potentially leasing waterfront space to the Rays, the city also will ask voters to shift the ownership of the land to Pinellas County.

If a stadium was built and the city owned the land, it would have to pay property taxes. The county would not.

City attorney John Wolfe said the two issues may be able to be combined in one question. Council members, however, will have the final say.

City Council picks developer for possible Trop overhaul 06/19/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2008 6:37pm]
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