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Moment of truth nears for bids to redevelop Tropicana Field property

ST. PETERSBURG — After months of posturing, speculation and accusations of underhandedness, the city will learn this week of developers' interest in Tropicana Field .

Tampa Bay Rays officials say they expect multiple bids when offers for the 86-acre property are opened shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday. They can be assured of at least one — from the developer with whom the Rays have been working, Hines Interest of Houston.

Said the city's senior development administrator Rick Mussett: "You never know what to expect when you do one of these things."

• • •

Hines is expected to make an offer to the city that includes 900 homes, new city parkland and 1-million square feet of retail space.

What else may be on the table, and at what price, is anyone's guess. The Rays' proposal to build a waterfront stadium relies on the development of Tropicana Field generating roughly $300-million.

Several prominent developers have at least sniffed out the possibilities.

Madison Marquette, of Washington, D.C., has mixed-use projects across the country and sent three people to St. Petersburg — including its senior vice president of leasing — to examine the Tropicana redevelopment.

An executive vice president of KUD International visited St. Petersburg last month. The company specializes in public-private developments and was the primary developer of the San Francisco Giants baseball stadium and the Florida Aquarium in Tampa.

And Archstone-Smith sent two officials to St. Petersburg to explore the Tropicana Field site. The company, which primarily is known as a residential developer, has partnered with Madison Marquette and Hines on development proposals before.

Just last month, Archstone-Smith and Madison Marquette were a finalist to redevelop a 110-acre site along the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C., with 2,000 homes, 1-million square feet of space and, potentially, a professional soccer stadium.

Archstone-Smith and Hines, meanwhile, are working on the redevelopment of Washington's old convention center.

None of the companies the St. Petersburg Times contacted returned a phone call or were willing to discuss a potential bid.

• • •

The questions posed to city officials may provide some insight into what developers are thinking.

The city accepted questions in person during a Feb. 8 meeting at the Mahaffey Theater. They also took questions by e-mail.

The questions and answers were sent to anyone who inquired about the possible development and were posted on the city's Web site.

They paint of picture of professionals curious about every aspect of the potential development, from how the deal would work, to what the city wants, to who decides what developer will be chosen.

"It's a little fuzzy how the parties are involved," wrote one developer. (None of the questioners was identified by the city). "Please clarify the structure/arrangement between the county, the city and the Rays baseball team."

In their response, the city said the county technically owns the land underneath Tropicana Field, but the city has a lease to operate the site. If for any reason baseball is no longer played on the land, the property then belongs to the city.

Other questions focused on how Hines got involved — the Rays sought them out — and if the baseball team will have a say in who ultimately is picked to redevelop the 86 acres. The city says the team won't.

Some questions dealt with very specific development possibilities, a sign perhaps, of a prospective bid:

Is CSX rail line still active?

Yes and no, according to the city. There are two lines on the site. One is becoming an extension of the Pinellas Trail. The other isn't used now, but it may be one day.

Is there a minimum amount of affordable housing required?

No.

Does the city want a school site on the property?

No.

Does the city want other public facilities?

The city encourages public open spaces and a transportation facility.

City officials say they will begin to evaluate each proposal on Tuesday. A recommendation on whether to move forward with any bid is expected to reach Mayor Rick Baker's desk within weeks. The City Council is scheduled to select a potential bidder — if it gets that far — May 1.

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273.

Moment of truth nears for bids to redevelop Tropicana Field property 03/15/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2008 3:09pm]
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