ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman said the redevelopment of Tropicana Field is imminent.
That was back in 2018.
And yet the critical first step in the process — asking companies to compete for a city contract to develop the potentially lucrative 86-acre site — hasn’t happened and may not happen any time soon. Even though Kriseman said it would more than a year ago.
Now the mayor says that timeline for developing perhaps the most important piece of real estate in the city was “optimistic.”
It’s Kriseman’s call when to seek proposals. And the window for developers to submit proposals could be open a year or more. After that, it could take another year for the city to select the winners. Delaying the project now stretches that timeline out indefinitely.
Kriseman hasn’t even committed to putting out a request for proposals before he leaves office in January 2022.
“My intention is for it to go out, at least, under my administration,” the mayor said last week. “How long it takes us to evaluate to ... reach agreement and terms with whoever we select, get that before council and get their approval?
"It’s hard to say how long that process will take. It could happen during my time. It might not. I just don’t know.”
Further, the development of the property is expected to generate a financial windfall for the city — and the Tampa Bay Rays, if development begins while the team remains based at the Trop through the stadium’s lease term, which ends after the 2027 season. The slowed timeline is troubling to one city official who hopes to capitalize on a strong market.
On the other hand, some local business and economic officials warn against rushing the process, noting that finding a developer for a project of this magnitude is akin to entering into a long-term relationship.
"You’re getting married,” said Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive Chris Steinocher.
Affordable housing, university space, research labs, high-end office space, retail, restaurants, a convention center, new parks. Maybe a new baseball stadium, maybe not.
Whatever ends up there, city officials have said building atop the sprawling publicly-owned parcel could change downtown St. Petersburg forever.
They’ve said they want to get started as soon as possible. They’ve said St. Petersburg can’t wait to begin reaping the benefits of that economically fertile yet currently untilled ground, or finally delivering on promises to a bygone generation of displaced mostly black residents.
Back in 2018, while the Tampa Bay Rays contemplated moving to Hillsborough County, HKS Architects envisioned the development along two tracks for the Trop site: one with a new stadium if the Rays decide to stay on that property, and one without a stadium if the Rays decide to leave.
Those drawings will help to inform an eventual request for proposal the city plans to issue to attract a master developer who can see through a single vision for the site. Kriseman prefers that method rather than parceling out the property to different builders with different visions and taking a chance on disparate development.
The city must allow for a competitive process. City officials expect to hear from firms all over the globe clamoring for a chance to build on the site.
Alan DeLisle, the city’s development administrator, told council members the deadline for proposals could be up to a year after the request is issued. That would ensure developers have enough time to visit the site, study the community’s needs and draw up plans. He said it might take another year after that for the city to narrow down the choices and make a selection.
For Kriseman, when to officially request proposals for what to do with the Trop site has been a moving target.
In November 2018, at an Historic Kenwood Neighborhood Association meeting, the mayor said he hoped to have the request out in the public by the end of that year, or early 2019.
Then, in April, Kriseman said he wanted to wait until the summer, when the Tampa Bay Rays promised to clue him in about their future intentions.
“If we potentially might know something by the summer, then it behooves us to get everything ready, so one way or the other, when we get word, we can pop it out,” Kriseman said then.
But the Rays’ idea to split the season between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal provided little clarity about the team’s future on the Trop site, and the timeline for that property took another lurch.
“I would love to say it’s going to be out before the end of 2019," Kriseman said in July. "We’ll see if we’re able to get it to a point where we’re comfortable where we put it out on the street. If not, we’ll keep working on it, and that could push us to 2020.”
He assured residents the uncertainty surrounding the team’s future “doesn’t prevent us from moving forward" on the property.
"That was part of what we did with our consultants looking at it from the perspectives of with a stadium, without a stadium,” he said.
Now Kriseman says he has no timeline for issuing the request.
City Council member Amy Foster said she’s concerned by the timeline creep.
“I have always been under the impression that we should start this process while the economy is booming," she said. "That we wanted to act quickly, and now is the time before something changes in our economy.”
Steinocher, the chamber president, said the business community isn’t “surprised or concerned about the timeline right now.” He said the fate of the team must be worked out out first. The chamber has assembled a committee, called St. Pete 2028, that is examining the cost-benefit of a split season.
“We gotta know really what we’re wanting to do with this site," he said this week. “And until we solve that, I think it’s hard to make too much fast progress.”
Kriseman said he’s seeking the community’s input. That includes thoughts from a group convened with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative that is focused on ensuring the development on that property is “equitable.” It also includes a mobility study the city is conducting with Forward Pinellas and the Florida Department of Transportation to examine the effects of potential future Trop redevelopment on downtown traffic.
The St. Pete 2050 initiative could also prove valuable as the city assesses its long-term needs and desires.
All that takes time, and Kriseman would not say if he was waiting for the completion of those initiatives before issuing a proposal request.
“There is a sense of urgency," said Jason Mathis, the chief executive of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, an urban planning and economic development organization, and a member of the Bloomberg Harvard group. "But I also think it has to be counterbalanced with the sense of wanting to make sure that you take the time to do it right. It’s more important to do it right, right now in the process, than it is to do it quick.”