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Rays stadium: Trop redevelopment cash to nearby neighborhoods?

Tropicana Field is just outside the newly created Southside Community Redevelopment Area. If it were inside, the influx of cash to the community would be considerable.
Published May 28, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — After more than half a year of debate, discord and drift, the City Council will meet again today to discuss the Tampa Bay Rays stadium stalemate.

Rays officials won't be there. But Mayor Rick Kriseman will attend the workshop, looking to "move the issue forward," in the words of his chief of staff, Kevin King.

One new possible wrinkle in the saga? Somehow tying the potentially lucrative future of the Tropicana Field property to the economically distressed poor neighborhoods to its south.

The borders of the newly created Southside Community Redevelopment Area lie just to the south of the Trop. Requiring the developer who reaps the windfall of developing the property to also put money into development in the CRA could be one possibility. Redrawing the boundaries of the CRA, which does not include the baseball stadium and its vast parking lots, is another idea that has piqued the interest of some key players.

With the exception of the Trop property, the 7.5-square-mile CRA is for the most part bounded by Fourth Street to 49th Street and from Second Avenue N to 30th Avenue S.

"That would change the dynamics radically," said council member Karl Nurse, who has discussed the issue, although he can't remember with whom. "This is the kind of thing that would ratchet up the CRA enormously."

The benefits to the CRA could be potentially huge, pumping millions in revenue into poor neighborhoods from rising property values on what is commonly seen as the hottest piece of commercial property in the region. But any such plan also faces enormous obstacles, not the least of which is persuading skeptical council members that it isn't just a public relations move to ease the team's exit from the city.

If the Rays decide to stay at the Trop, they would likely need only a fraction of the land — perhaps 15 to 20 acres, leaving the bulk of the property to be redeveloped. If they left, all 85 acres would be available.

Council member Steve Kornell, who voted against a deal in December to allow the Rays to look at stadium sites in Hillsborough County, said he would be open to linking the Trop's redevelopment under an agreement to economic rejuvenation of the city's southern neighborhoods only if it meant Major League Baseball remains in St. Petersburg.

"Right now, that's a hypothetical," Kornell said. "I'm interested in keeping baseball in St. Petersburg. Cities are usually not happy to lose a baseball team."

King said he hasn't heard any talk about linking the CRA to the Trop.

"It sounds right now like just a lot of spitballing," King said.

City officials are hesitant to lock up what could be massive revenue generated by new construction on the Trop property into a specific area of the city. And requiring development in the CRA could also limit the pool of developers willing to take on both the Trop and the 7.5-square-mile area.

But, he added, the mayor is eager to break the gridlock that has gripped the issue since the council voted down a previous plan in December.

"For us, it's just about making progress right now," King said.

To redraw the CRA boundaries would require a study showing the Trop site to be blighted — a long shot. And the County Commission would be likely very reluctant to be on the hook for decades more of tax money on that property going to a specific area, city officials said.

"That's probably not an easy sell to the county," said Rick Smith, the city's community redevelopment coordinator.

The Rays declined to comment on the idea.

Nurse proposed today's workshop as a way to persuade the five members who voted against Kriseman's first plan to reconsider the value of the Tropicana Field site. He said he'll ask for an Urban Land Institute study to assess the redevelopment potential of the property.

Such a study isn't needed, Kornell said.

"I don't need ULI to come in for hundreds of thousands of dollars to tell me that land is valuable. I already know that," he said.

The mayor is open to a study, King said, especially if the Rays are willing to shoulder some of the cost. Rays officials have said they would be willing to do that.

Kriseman sent council members a memo last week outlining existing research on the economic impact of baseball for cities. The findings range in a spectrum from significant to almost none. Council member Jim Kennedy had requested the city do its own study, but Kriseman declined, saying the city would likely arrive at conclusions similar to existing research.

Whatever ultimately happens at the site, Nurse said, will almost certainly affect the nearby neighborhoods, with or without a formal agreement to link a deal with the CRA.

"I'll certainly point out that development on that scale has a ripple down effect," Nurse said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.

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