ST. PETERSBURG — In a surprise move, Mayor Rick Baker on Friday went against the Tampa Bay Rays and chose developers Archstone and Madison Marquette to purchase and redevelop Tropicana Field.
The recommendation is contingent on the Rays' plans to construct a new stadium on St. Petersburg's waterfront. It must be must ratified by the City Council next week.
The Archstone-Madison proposal would turn Tropicana Field and its sprawling parking lots into an 86-acre urban village accented by an outdoor mall the size of Tampa's International Plaza.
At $1.2 billion, the EcoVerde development would be the city's largest. It would include 1,935 apartments, 755 condominiums and townhomes, 800,000 square feet of office space and two hotels totaling 600 rooms.
The Washington, D.C., area developers beat out finalist Hines, a Houston company that had been working with the Rays on a smaller redevelopment concept. The Rays on Friday said they supported the mayor's decision.
The selection, however, was not widely anticipated. For months, opponents of the Rays' plans complained that the process was manipulated so only Hines could win.
And some stadium supporters even believed Hines would prevail because the company was better known.
"We wouldn't have recommended Archstone-Madison if we weren't comfortable with them," said city senior development administrator Rick Mussett. "We're looking for what's in the city's best long-term interest. We felt Archstone had a little better vision."
Construction would begin in 2010 and take up to 13 years to complete, under the developers' timetable. The company so far has offered $65-million for the site, to be paid out over seven years.
Archstone vice president Daryl South did not return calls seeking comment late Friday.
City officials said Friday that if the City Council agrees with the mayor's recommendation, they hope to reach a preliminary development agreement with Archstone-Madison by Aug. 1.
Many of the pertinent issues already have been discussed, according to the city.
Archstone-Madison says, for instance, that it is prepared to guarantee up to 1-million square feet of retail development as part of its first phase and will contribute $5-million toward the demolition of Tropicana Field.
But the developers so far have been unwilling to guarantee any tax revenue that could be generated as a result of the project or pay for any environmental cleanup costs.
The city and the developers also must find a way to pay off the existing debt at Tropicana Field. The current purchase price falls a few million dollars short.
According to the city, the Archstone-Madison proposal could bring 5,574 permanent jobs to the city and create $7.5-million a year in city taxes when it's completed.
"I'm optimistic that we're at a good starting point for entering negotiations," Mussett said.
Archstone and Madison Marquette have not partnered on a project before, though the companies did bid recently to redevelop nearly 100 acres along Washington's Anacostia River. Archstone primarily is a residential developer with $20-billion in assets. Madison Marquette is an urban retail developer with over 350 employees.
For more information, see the Times' stadium blog Ballpark Frankness at blogs.tampabay.com/ballpark.