St. Petersburg begins hunt for developers to reimagine Tropicana Field site

Developers have until January 2021 to submit ideas. After that, Mayor Rick Kriseman said he will pick a project within six months.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, center, Alan DeLisle, the city development administrator, and Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, the city's director of urban affairs, stand on the steps of St. Petersburg City Hall on Monday, July 27, 2020, to announce the release of the Tropicana Field RFP.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, center, Alan DeLisle, the city development administrator, and Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, the city's director of urban affairs, stand on the steps of St. Petersburg City Hall on Monday, July 27, 2020, to announce the release of the Tropicana Field RFP. [ JOSH SOLOMON | JOSH SOLOMON | Times ]
Published July 27, 2020|Updated July 28, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman on Monday unveiled the request for proposals for the 86-acre Tropicana Field site after five years of discussion, formally opening the window for developers to bid on a construction project that has the potential to change the face of St. Petersburg.

The 31-page document outlines the city’s guiding principles for the project and sets the framework within which development companies must envision the city’s next new neighborhood.

It will be a massive undertaking: The city wants the Trop site — the baseball stadium and parking lot that encompass more than 21 square city blocks — to have the street grid system restored. Environmental remediation may be necessary. And the city wants the project to include mixed-income housing, office space, a high class hotel, a tech hub and parks. The document also calls for making the Pinellas Trail and Booker Creek prominent elements within the project.

Related: How much of the redeveloped Trop site should be parks?

Furthermore, the request for proposals directs developers’ designs to honor and celebrate the site’s history within the city’s Black community. And it demands potential developers create jobs for workers who live within the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area, during and after construction.

Developers will have until Jan. 15, 2021 to submit proposals.

Related: St. Petersburg's future lies beneath Tropicana Field. Do the Rays stand in the way?

“We are looking forward to seeing world-class developers who are used to handling significant, major projects that are generational in their impact,” Kriseman said during a Monday morning news conference in front of City Hall.

The document did not reveal anything new about the ongoing negotiations between the city and the Tampa Bay Rays over the team’s proposal to split home games between Montreal and the Tampa Bay area. The team’s lease of Tropicana Field expires in 2027; after that, the Rays’ long-term home remains uncertain. The city said developers must be flexible and submit plans that take into account scenarios with and without a ballpark.

The 86 acres of the Trop site redevelopment area, which includes the stadium and contiguous parking lot, plus some outer lots.
The 86 acres of the Trop site redevelopment area, which includes the stadium and contiguous parking lot, plus some outer lots. [ City of St. Petersburg ]

The mayor stressed soliciting visions for the project is just a first step — it would likely be years before any structures are built. For now, Pinellas County technically owns the property and has promised millions in tourist tax revenue to help with construction of a new stadium and $75 million to finance infrastructure improvements ahead of the site’s redevelopment. One complicating factor: the county and the Rays must approve any new development through 2027.

Earlier this year, according to City Council member Darden Rice, Rays team president Brian Auld made clear to council members that the team was prepared to exercise its veto authority should it be forced to play full seasons in the Trop through the end of its lease.

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The document acknowledges as much, saying at the latest, “development will commence after the (Trop lease) terminates,” but that “Regardless of when development commences, planning for development can occur now.”

Kriseman said he doesn’t expect the county or the Rays to stand in the city’s way.

“I don’t think we’re looking at 2027 before we see development occur on that site,” he said.

Rays officials declined to field questions Monday and issued this statement: “We look forward to learning the details of the RFP.”

Related: Three mayors. One owner. No deal. St. Pete’s futile history with the Rays.

Three critical points of the request for proposals are housing, job creation and history. The document says that mixed-income housing should include, at a minimum, housing for families who make up to 60 percent, 80 percent and 120 percent of the area’s median income.

Office space features prominently in the solicitation, including incubator space for small businesses and offices for companies that work in the city’s five Grow Smarter target job sectors: marine and life sciences, financial services, data analytics, specialized manufacturing, and creative arts and design.

Kriseman said the effect of the pandemic on office needs remains unknown: companies might need fewer desks, because more people will be working remotely, or companies might need more space to account for social distancing.

The request for proposals also calls for a tech campus that could include university research and educational facilities, and for a four- or five-star hotel with at least 50,000 square feet of conference space.

The document makes clear the site’s history, particularly as it relates to the city’s Black community. The Trop sits on a razed, predominantly Black working class neighborhood that was home to more than 2,000 residents. Homes, businesses and churches were relocated or destroyed to make way for the baseball stadium.

The new Trop site project will be linked to the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area, providing residents housing, training and jobs, both during construction and after.

“Obviously this site has significant history, and there were a lot of promises that were made that were not fulfilled,” Kriseman said, referencing promises of jobs and prosperity for Black residents that would follow the construction of the baseball stadium. “And it’s been our intent since the beginning of this process to make sure that the voices of the community, that the history of this site, advise us and direct us as we move forward.”

Jabaar Edmond, a community organizer and vice president of the Childs Park Neighborhood Association who said he had not yet read the request for proposals, said he’s skeptical the jobs will materialize for Black residents. He pointed to Commerce Park, another city-owned development project that was supposed to create jobs for South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area residents. Last year the industrial component fell apart and project was reimagined. It will now house a future Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum. Edmond said the promises of jobs on the redeveloped Trop site echo the promises of jobs when the stadium was first built.

“That was a historic wrong that was done to the Black community, and I don’t think anywhere near enough is being done to right that wrong,” said Edmond, who has been participating in the recent local marches against racial injustice and inequality in the wake of George Floyd’s death. “So a lot of this is smoke and mirrors.”

The request for proposals makes no mention of possible graves that could be located beneath the Trop site.

Once proposals are in, Kriseman, who has served six and a half years as mayor, said he will take about six months to choose his favorite and send a development agreement to City Council for approval. That will mean he will pick the proposal in the heat of a mayoral election and within months of leaving office. It will be the responsibility of future mayoral administrations to see the project through.

Related: From March: How long to redevelop the Rays’ home turf in St. Petersburg? Mayor Kriseman won’t say

Council member Rice, a likely 2021 mayoral candidate, wrote in a text message that “Kriseman will push off the process in good fashion, but Tropicana Field redevelopment is really the job that awaits for the next mayor.” She noted the project will be years in the making.

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, who has said he will also run for mayor, called the request for proposals “well crafted” in a text message and said it “addresses many strategic priorities.”

“Given the generational impact of this project — like the Pier project — ‘getting it right’ should be our focus,” Welch wrote. “I’m looking forward to the process going forward.”

Kriseman said it’s within his purview to make this decision even as the end of his tenure approaches.

“It’s a four year term. It’s not a three year term, it’s not a three year six month term,” he said Monday. “And I plan on working until the day they tell me I have to leave the office.”