When real estate investor Darryl Shaw unveiled his master plan for the 50-plus-acre Gas Worx development, it portrayed a hyper-dense district flush with residences, offices and retail — and an open question about whether it would include a ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays.
How exactly a stadium would be folded into such an urban development, overlapping historic and brick-laden Ybor City, remains to be seen. But multiple people involved in the negotiations surrounding the Rays’ failed 2018 pitch for an Ybor home said this new plan and the evolution of stadium design are ingredients for potential success.
“Someone, like Darryl, developing a master plan will look at the whole picture to see how it benefits the entire plan,” said Chuck Sykes in an email. Sykes is the president and CEO of Sykes Enterprises and was a leading voice in the prior corporate effort advocating for an Ybor ballpark. He said he’s not involved in the latest discussions.
The Gas Worx plan depicts a development with as many as 5,000 homes, 500,000 square feet of office space and 150,000 square feet of retail. In comparison, the previous pitch for a stadium in Ybor spanned 14 acres. Shaw has yet to show specifically how a stadium, with seats for thousands of fans, could be wrapped into the project, and he declined to delve into those details for this story.
But in a recent interview, he gave some clues. Shaw said that a stadium “wouldn’t fit” in the land west of the Nuccio Parkway, and that it would likely go where some of his residential towers are now planned — in that same general area previously pitched.
“We are starting our first project on the Tampa Park Apartments site, and that would be early next year to go vertical,” he said. “One of the reasons we are doing that on that side is to allow time for the Rays to continue their evaluation and conversations.”
Shaw, the co-founder of veterinary company BluePearl, is among a group of investors who loaned $15 million to the Times Publishing Co., which owns the Tampa Bay Times. The loan has been fully repaid.
The Rays’ last flirtation with Ybor officially began in 2016, when the St. Petersburg City Council granted permission to begin a three-year search for other stadium locations in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Two years later, the team unveiled a design for a $892 million stadium in Ybor City on a spot that is now the eastern section of Shaw’s development plan. The Rays declared the idea dead a few months later. The proposed stadium would have been bordered by 15th Street and Channelside Drive to the east and west and Fourth Avenue and Adamo Drive to the north and south.
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Graham Tyrrell, senior vice president of Kettler, Shaw’s lead development partner on Gas Worx, declined to be interviewed for this story. But he said in a statement that “there is no question that the project can accommodate a baseball stadium.”
“If the Tampa Bay Rays and the community decide that Ybor is the best home for baseball in Tampa Bay, we will work to bring their vision of an urban stadium to life in a way that complements the history and character of Ybor and the surrounding neighborhood,” Tyrell said.
Of course, shifting the stadium to Ybor City instead of St. Petersburg would affect the efforts on the other side of the bay to redevelop the 86-acre Trop site, though the two finalist development teams have prepared plans for that land with and without a ballpark.
During a period of intense discord in St. Pete this spring — including a lawsuit being filed against team owner Stu Sternberg by minority owners and Mayor Rick Kriseman saying he couldn’t negotiate with Sternberg while the suit was pending — the team once again brought up Ybor City as an option, according to Hillsborough County commissioners who spoke with them.
At the time, Rays’ President Brian Auld said the meetings were part of regular updates about the idea to split seasons with Montreal. But he added: “Our priority is to keep baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come, and Ybor City, with its storied baseball past, would make an outstanding home for Tampa Bay’s baseball future.”
The Rays declined to comment for this story. Tampa city officials, though, recently declared that Tampa is still the best option for the team.
In the conversations relayed by Hillsborough commissioners, Auld suggested that the stadium design could be open-air, a departure from the previous, roofed design. An outdoor ballpark would be cheaper, too, he said and threw out $700 million as a rough estimate.
As ballparks have evolved, many developers now prefer them to be nestled inside an urban environment surrounded by restaurants and entertainment — such as the Orioles’ Camden Yards or the Pirates’ stadium in Pittsburgh. Even the Atlanta Braves’ stadium, which was relocated from downtown to the suburbs, is part of a larger development project. This creates a fuller fan experience than driving straight to the game and then immediately driving home.
Other than the chunk of the Gas Worx site taken up by the stadium itself, its presence likely wouldn’t require an overhaul of the rest of the master plan, said Ron Christaldi, a Tampa business lawyer who also led past corporate efforts to woo the Rays to Ybor. He said he is not currently involved in any stadium discussions.
“When they built the Trop ... basically what they did is built ground-level parking spots for blocks around it. That wouldn’t be the plan today,” Christaldi said. “The plan would be for people to be able to walk from their house or a restaurant to the ballpark, so I suspect (Shaw) has got that already baked in.”
Elizabeth Strom, an associate professor at the University of South Florida who’s researched urban development, agreed that Gas Worx fits the ideal mold for the modern stadium concept.
“If you have offices, those are all workers who can go to games after work without moving their cars,” she said.
Shaw would theoretically have to find another place for the residences currently slated for where the stadium would go. But in the spirit of the homes across from Wrigley Field or the hotel in the Toronto Blue Jays’ stadium complex, experts raised the possibility of keeping the housing close by.
“It’s a piece of cake,” said Matt Rossetti, an architect and president of Detroit-based planning and design firm Rossetti, which has worked on several stadiums including the Detroit Lions’ Ford Field and Daytona International Speedway. “Residential towers have very tiny footprints, so they’re really easy to integrate with developments with a big stadium. There’s nothing cooler than looking down on a stadium, whether there’s a game going on or not.”
Still, having housing closely integrated with a sports complex will require careful parking and traffic planning to avoid congestion when thousands of baseball fans arrive to Gas Worx at the same time, said Ruth Steiner, a professor in the urban and regional planning department at the University of Florida.
“You may live adjacent to (the ballpark) ... and grumble every time there’s a game because you can’t get anywhere in your neighborhood,” she said.
The hesitancy toward creating vast surface lots in an otherwise dense development could require other, more expensive solutions, Steiner added, such as vertical parking garages or a shuttle system.
It’s possible that Gas Worx will also include rail transit. Tyrrell, the lead developer, has said that the team is exploring whether Brightline could extend its planned Miami-to-Orlando commuter rail service into Tampa. There are already railroad tracks on the land.
That would allow fans from as far as the Orlando area to attend games in addition to locals, which former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn called “compelling.”
The previous proposal envisioned the Ybor stadium spanning 14 acres. That size might not hold true today, though, if the team went with a split-season in Montreal, Buckhorn said.
“If you’re only playing half the games there and you’re playing during the time it’s not likely to rain, that may change the concept,” he said.
Shaw’s proposal may address another challenge with building a stadium: how to pay for it.
New stadiums are often paid for with public dollars as well as money from private entities, including the team. In this case, it’s possible it would be financed using a Community Redevelopment Area, which means the increase in property values in the surrounding area will go toward helping the city pay off debt it accrued for the ballpark.
For that model to work, there needs to be development around the park. Much of the land planned for Gas Worx is either vacant or low-density now, meaning that new development could, in theory, quickly bump up property values to replenish public coffers without affecting many existing residents’ taxes.
That’s where Shaw’s master plan would come in, Sykes said, giving the city and county a sense of how much tax revenue might be available “versus a ‘build it and hope development happens’ (approach).”
Buckhorn said that having a primary landowner such as Shaw also makes a deal “significantly easier,” comparing it to how he was able to work closely with Jeff Vinik on the Lightning’s Amalie Arena.
“These are complicated deals,” he said. “Knowing you have partner you can rely on that has the wherewithal to get it done — and not just a typical developer who’s using other people’s money — makes a world of a difference.”
While he’s excited about the Gas Worx development plan, Buckhorn said he’s not getting too worked up over the latest stadium talk just yet.
“Fool me once,” he said. “There’s a long road to go for that to happen.”
Times staff writer Jay Cridlin contributed to this report.