ST. PETERSBURG — A discussion about the future of the 86-acre Tropicana Field site turned testy last week when a City Council member proposed reserving a large chunk for parks.
Council member Darden Rice led a committee discussion about earmarking 30 acres of the site, or more than a third of it, for green space. The city’s development administrator, Alan DeLisle, balked at the idea, saying it would throw off the dynamics of the project.
The discussion — which pitted the value of parks against the value of private development — came as city officials have said they are close to soliciting proposals from developers who will build atop the site. Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office on Friday said the mayor is committed to releasing the request for proposals by the end of the year.
City Council doesn’t normally weigh in on requests for proposals until after the mayor’s office receives ideas from private companies and selects a favorite. Then, Council members vote to move forward with a particular concept, or not.
Rice said her proposal for 30 contiguous acres was a way to “sharpen our recommendation" and "plant the flag that we do want to see a lot of green space.”
She said she was inspired by the city’s founders, who preserved the waterfront for green space.
DeLisle presented council members two tracks of possible development on the Trop site, envisioned in renderings by HKS Architects in 2018. The two tracks — one with a new baseball stadium and one without — both have ratios of 60 percent private development to 40 percent public development, a golden ratio in development, DeLisle said. Public development includes parks, roads and plazas.
He said both plans include park land around a revived Booker Creek. The drawing with a stadium includes about 10 acres of parks, while the drawing without the stadium includes about 21 acres. DeLisle also pointed out that the Trop site sits directly north of Campbell Park, which is 33 acres of contiguous park land. A redeveloped Trop site would likely include greater connectivity to Campbell Park.
"I know all of you care about the fiscal return on this project as well, and obviously private development generates property taxes, and property taxes generate quality of life expenditures,” he said.
To make his point, he outlined what a 30-acre contiguous park would look like on a drawing of the parcel. It appears to consume a large chunk of the property.
DeLisle said the demands on the property are high. Leaders and the community have said they want the Trop site to support a multitude of development, including housing for different income levels, university space, research labs, high-end office space, retail, restaurants, a convention center, new parks, a hotel. And it’s still not clear if there will be a baseball stadium.
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“I sit here knowing that the administration does not disagree with the importance of significant green space as part of the project," said DeLisle. "That will clearly be stated in the (request for proposals). There are other goals that are also important to the council and to this community and to the mayor.”
“This is not whataboutism," Rice said. "We all have the intellect and ability to discuss these issues without trying to reshuffle priorities in the deck.”
Council members did not vote on anything. Rice said she will ensure developers are informed of the discussion.
Kriseman has said since 2018 that he is close to soliciting developer input on the Trop site.
“We are still receiving feedback on the (request for proposals)," said Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby, specifically referencing anticipated input from the Pinellas County Economic Development Council. "We’re going to get it out soon. Mayor Kriseman wants it to be right, not quick. As you know, as I think everybody understands, there are many long-term implications to the city on such a large piece of property. And it’s important that we address many of those different issues that are going to be considered the right way.”