The new home of the Tampa Bay Rays could also serve as one of the largest affordable housing developments the city of St. Petersburg has ever seen.
In addition to a $1.3 billion baseball stadium, the city could get 1,200 units of lower-cost housing as part of the deal. Half will be on the same site as the ballpark, and half will be scattered across the city.
It’s all part of a larger $6.5 billion effort to redevelop the 86-acre Historic Gas Plant District that surrounds Tropicana Field. The project, headed up by global real estate developer Hines, could help the city address the affordable housing crisis. But is it enough to keep up with the growing need?
Hines CEO Michael Harrison told reporters on Tuesday that Mayor Ken Welch pushed for more affordable housing to be added, calling it a “top priority.” The current plan includes 40% more affordable and workforce housing than was originally proposed.
Half of the units will be designated for people who make 80% or less of the area median income, and half will be for people who make 120% or less.
There will be at least 100 units of on-site senior housing. This will give residents who were forced out of the Gas Plant neighborhood when the city made way for Tropicana Field the opportunity to return, Harrison said.
Hines will provide an additional $15 million to existing city-run housing initiatives, including homeownership programs.
Ashon Nesbitt, CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition, a Tallahassee-based nonprofit, said 1,200 units is “significant.”
Typically, affordable housing gets built in smaller chunks. Usually no more than 100 units at a time.
It’s not often that you have a site that’s 86 acres, centrally located and publicly owned. This gives the city a rare chance to develop affordable units on a larger scale.
Still, “as big of a number as that is, the need is much, much greater,” Nesbitt said.
Median rent in St. Petersburg has increased 36% the past five years, according to data from real estate analytics firm CoStar. It now hovers around $1,687 a month. In Pinellas County, 34% of households spend more than a third of their income on housing, data from the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies shows.
Housing affordability was a focal point for Welch during his mayoral campaign. He has since pledged to add 8,000 units of affordable housing by 2030.
The first affordable and workforce units in the Gas Plant District could begin construction as soon as 2027. However, the entire project will take nearly 20 years to complete.
Building affordable housing is not a quick and easy process. Most developers rely on a variety of public subsidies, tax breaks and grants to make the razor-thin margins work.
Many of these programs are competitive, so there’s no guarantee to secure funding the first time applying, said Brett Green, president of Archway Partners. His company is developing three affordable housing projects in the Tampa Bay area.
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“It does take time to gather the resources and get all the local governments on board,” he said.
Rising interest rates and increasing construction costs could create additional challenges.
Even if all goes as planned, not everyone is happy with the deal.
City Council member Richie Floyd said the $600 million subsidy the mayor wants to give to Hines and the Rays is “incredibly difficult to stomach” and may not be the best use of public funds. He questioned whether the city could build more units if it spent that money directly on affordable housing.
Dylan Dames, a local organizer with the group Faith in Florida, said he fears the project won’t benefit the city’s most vulnerable residents.
The affordable component will be aimed at those who make at least 20% less than the typical St. Petersburg resident. Right now, that’s around $60,812 for an individual or $86,875 for a family of four.
“To us, that does not represent poor people,” Dames said. “Maybe ‘New York poor,’ but definitely not ‘Florida poor.’”
Until the City Council votes to approve the deal, probably by early next year, none of the details are set in stone.
Regardless of the outcome, Chris Savino, vice president of Archway Partners, said the mayor has set an important precedent by making affordable housing a requirement for the project.
“It’s a good step in the right direction because it shows developers what to expect if they want to build in the city,” he said.