Less noticed in the debate over a new waterfront baseball stadium in St. Petersburg is the opportunity that would be created by closing Tropicana Field. Those 86 acres are a vital piece of the overall puzzle, but the development potential has to be assessed on its own merits and not on whether it will produce enough cash for another stadium.
The City Council is scheduled today to take a step toward finding a potential developer for the Trop site, and city economic development director Dave Goodwin has described the appropriate framework for the task.
"The disposition of this asset should be reserved for the type of development that would have a significant positive economic impact on the city … for decades," he writes. "Therefore … any redevelopment project that may go forward should focus primarily on what's in the best long-term interest of the city, rather than a short-term view based solely on the highest price a bidder may be willing to pay."
The two developers with whom Mayor Rick Baker wants to begin negotiations have offered bids for the property that likely fall short of the ambitions of the Tampa Bay Rays. Neither the Archstone-Madison bid of $65-million nor the Hines Interests bid of $50-million would make much of a dent in the $450-million cost of a new stadium. It might not even pay off the existing debt on the Trop.
The city can't be focused solely, though, on whether it is getting top dollar for the land. It has an obligation to assure any development will be a catalyst for the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods and that any developer has the experience and financial means to pull off a project of this scale, particularly in the current economy and credit market.
Hines and Archstone-Madison each bring credible development records to the table, and both propose a substantial blend of retail, office and residential. The main difference is that Archstone proposes nearly four times as much office space while Hines would offer more park and pedestrian features.
This kind of development would not be possible, of course, if not for the Rays' proposal to build at the site of Al Lang Field. That new stadium still has a host of questions about financing and parking and other issues that require fuller answers. But the Rays can't expect the support of voters unless both ends of the deal work. Any redevelopment at the Trop site needs to be a winner, too.