Suitors make first proposals for Tropicana project

ST. PETERSBURG — Three national developers submitted offers to redevelop Tropicana Field on Tuesday, with each wanting to build communities highlighted by major retail options, hundreds of homes and, potentially, more than 1,000 new jobs.

But none of the proposals fully answered a pressing question:

Can development of Tropicana Field finance two-thirds of a new $450-million waterfront stadium, as the Tampa Bay Rays say it must.

Of three bidders, only the group the Rays were working with — Hines Interests — was willing to say how much it would pay for the land: $50-million.

No purchase price was included in the other two bids from developers Archstone and Madison Marquette, and from a group made up of three entities including DeBartolo Holdings.

The sale of the 86-acre Tropicana site, along with the taxes generated by its redevelopment, are what the Rays are seeking to build a new waterfront stadium at Al Lang Field.

Now the Rays will build a finance plan. The city will try to make sense of bid documents that vary widely and are hundreds of pages thick.

The developers who submitted proposals to the city ahead of a 10 a.m. Tuesday deadline offered competing but similar visions for Tropicana Field.

All of the proposals relied heavily on either housing or retail components. Each envisioned a significant public park and capitalized off the small creek that runs through the site.

Hines' proposal included 855,000 square feet of retail space. The group said it expects to attract Crate & Barrel, Tommy Bahama, Whole Foods, Williams-Sonoma, Cabela's, Bass Pro Shops and other retailers to a new community they're calling WestEnd St. Pete.

The most aggressive bid came from the partnership of Archstone and Madison Marquette, two nationally known developers from the Washington area. Their proposal, called EcoVerde, includes a total investment of $1.2-billion, including three hotels, nearly 2,000 rental units and more than 1-million square feet of new retail.

The third proposal, from a consortium that includes DeBartolo and two other developers, calls for a 4,000-unit rental community bordered by a grocery store, an office building and street-level retail options.

None of the potential developers would discuss their proposals publicly Tuesday.

City officials spent Tuesday trying to find ways to compare the offers.

It was difficult, said senior development administrator Rick Mussett, who hopes to make a recommendation to Mayor Rick Baker by April 23.

The sale and redevelopment could occur only if voters approve the Rays stadium plan. City Council members have not yet decided whether to schedule a November referendum.

"It's kind of encouraging to see this kind of development interest given the fact we don't even know if there will be a referendum on the ballot," said Mussett.

Added Baker: "Obviously, you always want to have bids to choose from. I know there was some doubt if we'd get multiple bids. I'm pleased we got three."

Financing questions

In its bid, Hines said the redevelopment of Tropicana Field would generate $858-million in new tax revenues over 35 years.

Under that scenario, some money would go to schools and other taxing districts, even potentially the city and county.

The Rays would hope to convert what's left to fund the construction of a new ballpark. The Rays say they are willing to pay $150-million toward construction, with the Tropicana redevelopment covering the rest.

Rays senior vice president Michael Kalt said the team hopes before June to have a more specific financing plan, based in part on what they learned from the three bids.

But new documents simultaneously released in City Hall on Tuesday paint a picture as to what money the Rays may be after.

City officials made public for the first time the remaining confidential documents related to the stadium and redevelopment proposal.

According to a Rays document prepared in fall 2007, the team thinks nearly $110-million can come from city and county property tax revenues generated by the Tropicana redevelopment. Another $110-million could come from the city and county's portions of new sales tax receipts.

Rays officials say the document, which includes several other possible funding sources, is just an accounting of all of the possibilities.

"It's a big complex puzzle where you might have 25 pieces, but only need 11 pieces to make the puzzle fit together," Kalt said.

Other documents released Tuesday detail the evolution of the Rays' proposal and their interactions with city officials.

The Rays met with at least five national developers about the potential Tropicana redevelopment before choosing Hines as a partner.

The team at one time considered including a 250-room hotel at the southwest corner of the Al Lang site, but scrapped the plan after realizing it would be too difficult.

The Rays also had early renderings that showed part of the stadium structure reaching out to and anchoring in the marina waters just east of the field.

"We did not want that to happen," Kalt said.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273.

What's next

April 23: Staff recommendation to Mayor Rick Baker.

May 1: City Council vote.

May: Rays present financing package.

June 5: Council vote to schedule referendum.

Suitors make first proposals for Tropicana project 03/19/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 23, 2008 6:02pm]

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