ST. PETERSBURG — Much has been said about the potential of the Tropicana Field site to transform the city.
At 86 acres, more than 27 square blocks, it could double the size of downtown to the southwest.
In recent years — while the Tampa Bay Rays hemmed and hawed about their future in Tampa, and now Montreal — city and county officials have spoken more urgently about the need to develop the land. The Rays are contractually bound to play at the Trop until 2027, but the city is already planning for the parcel’s future with or without a baseball team.
There are eight candidates running for four City Council seats on the Nov. 5 city-wide ballot. The winners could be among the council members who one day chart a new course for the Trop site.
District 7: Help black neighborhoods
The parcel is adjacent to one of the districts up for election, District 7, which sits south and west of downtown. It includes some of the poorest parts of the city, areas poised to finally reap the benefits of redeveloping the land. Decades ago, city leaders promised the then-Florida Suncoast Dome would be an economic boon to the area when they razed the Gas Plant, an African-American neighborhood, and the natural gas factory it was named after to make way for the stadium. The boon never came.
For Eritha “Akile” Cainion, the Trop site is integral to her campaign for reparations for the city’s black community. She would create an agency called the Reparations Land Trust and Development Authority to oversee development of city land between Third Street S on the east, 49th Street S on the west, Central Avenue on the north all the way south to 54th Avenue S.
The two primary city-owned parcels under the authority’s purview would be the Trop land and the Commerce Park site at 700 22nd St. S, neither of which have been developed to their potential.
She said the land should support black-owned businesses, and should not allow the gentrification that she said is overtaking black neighborhoods south of Central Avenue.
“Part of the reparations land trust plan is ensuring the development that occurs is not happening at our expense, and can reverse the effects of gentrification," she said.
Incumbent council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman advocates for establishing a “community-benefit agreement,” by which a portion of money raised off the development of the land could be reinvested into affordable housing in the southern neighborhoods.
It would work like a community redevelopment area, she said, which reinvests funds raised in an area back into that area. Except in this case, funds raised by redevelopment would benefit the surrounding neighborhoods.
As for what actually goes on the Trop land, Wheeler-Bowman said one part of the property should feature affordable housing, while other areas have shopping and restaurants.
“Something that works for everyone, something that everyone feels comfortable going (to) and spending their money, so it can’t be outpriced,” she said. “We should get this right, and it can work for everyone.”
District 5: An innovation hub
In District 5, which includes Pinellas Point and Lakewood Estates, candidates Trenia Cox and Deborah Figgs-Sanders boast similar platforms and long records of community activism in their race for an open council seat. There is also little room between them on the future of the Trop site.
Both said they want to see a convention center on the property — Pinellas County has long lacked convention space, a tourism market dominated by Tampa — and Cox said she wants to see a new hotel go up on the site.
Both said there should be a museum or some way to honor the black neighborhoods displaced by the dome. And both said there should be mixed-use housing.
Cox added that she’d like to see the Innovation District, which includes the downtown hospitals and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, expand onto the Trop land. And she wants space for a business incubator.
“It may sound ambitious," Cox said, "but we’ve got 85 acres.”
Figgs-Sanders, who called the property “a monumental opportunity,” said she would like the development to include community space for meetings and conferences but still remain affordable for local small businesses.
District 3: Old promises, new stadium
Orlando Acosta, vying to represent District 3 in Snell Isle and Shore Acres, said whatever goes on the Trop site needs to “heal a gaping wound in our city.”
He said it’s a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to build economic development and social and cultural elements.
“We have a large element of our community that feel left out because of promises made, promises broken when the Trop was developed,” he said.
Incumbent Ed Montanari said if the Rays stay in St. Petersburg, he’d like to see the team play in a new stadium incorporated into the Trop redevelopment (the city’s consultants are designing plans with or without a stadium.)
“I think a stadium on the Tropicana field site would work,” he said.
He also wants to build around a revitalized Booker Creek, which currently trickles through the property, and create an entertainment-centric river walk feature. And he’d like to see a corporate relocation there, and maybe a hotel.
The city also needs to ensure there is mixed-income housing on the property, too.
"I just don’t want that whole site to be dominated with affordable housing,” he said.
District 1: Break down barriers
In the race for the open District 1 seat representing the Tyrone area, Robert Blackmon said he sees the Trop land as a “false wall separating downtown from Midtown” that is holding back prosperity.
“We need to blend those two neighborhoods," he said. "Even just reintegrating the streets will help make inroads between the two neighborhoods.”
Beyond that, he said he’d like to see retail, restaurants and workforce housing on the property — the latter he said can go on the west side of the land. He also said the development should include minority-owned businesses.
His opponent, John Hornbeck, said he thinks in the minds of many fans, "that land is tainted for baseball.” Instead of a new stadium there, he said he’d like to build housing, hotels, restaurants and possibly a convention center. He said he’d also like to attract a major company.
But mostly, he said he’ll listen to what St. Petersburg’s residents want to do with the Trop site:
“I will be perfectly clear when I say I do not have any ideas set in stone that I refuse to budge on and I am open to listen to all citizens and hear all proposals for the land.”