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St. Petersburg NAACP-backed panel picks its choice for Trop redevelopment plan

The judges scored Sugar Hill Community Partners highest on issues related to community benefits.
This screengrab from a video by Sugar Hill Community Partners and JMA Ventures identified Esther Eugene as the president of the St. Petersburg Branch of the NAACP, speaking in support of the developers' $3 billion proposal to redevelop the city's Tropicana Field site. Sugar Hill later updated the video and apologized after Eugene said she was speaking on her own behalf as a local businesswoman. This week, the NAACP announced a panel of judges scored Sugar Hill the highest of the four shortlisted Trop redevelopment proposals.
This screengrab from a video by Sugar Hill Community Partners and JMA Ventures identified Esther Eugene as the president of the St. Petersburg Branch of the NAACP, speaking in support of the developers' $3 billion proposal to redevelop the city's Tropicana Field site. Sugar Hill later updated the video and apologized after Eugene said she was speaking on her own behalf as a local businesswoman. This week, the NAACP announced a panel of judges scored Sugar Hill the highest of the four shortlisted Trop redevelopment proposals. [ Sugar Hill Community Partners ]
Published Apr. 23
Updated Apr. 23

ST. PETERSBURG — A panel sponsored and assembled by the local chapter of the NAACP ranked Sugar Hill Community Partners, led by San Francisco developer JMA Ventures, the highest scoring of the four shortlisted Tropicana Field redevelopment plans.

Tampa investment firm Third Lake Partners, which partnered on a proposal with Atlanta’s Portman Holdings and Portman Residential, came in second, with Miami’s Midtown Development coming in at a close third. Orlando-based Unicorp National Development was fourth.

Related: If the Rays replace Tropicana Field, where will fans park?

“Needless to say, we’re incredibly honored to get the endorsement,” said David Carlock, Sugar Hill’s development manager. “The NAACP has a long and rich history of fighting for the right things, and fighting for justice, and we respect that very much.”

Sugar Hill scored the highest following two virtual forums this month in which the development teams each answered seven questions created by members of the NAACP’s economic development committee, focusing primarily in community benefits.

Six judges — Elizabeth Siplin, chair of the NAACP’s economic development committee; Dick Pierce of Eckerd College; Treva Davis, a descendant of a Gas Plant District resident; Trevor Mallory, chair of the NAACP’s housing committee; Bridget Narvaez of Empath Health; Cassandra Jackson, a member of the NAACP’s executive committee — then scored each answer 1 through 5.

Related: How St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field pitches stack up on parks, homes, history

St. Petersburg NAACP President Esther Eugene said she recused herself from the judging after she appeared in a promotional video Sugar Hill submitted to the city. In it, she was identified as the chapter’s president. After the video came out, she said didn’t offer her comments in that capacity. Sugar Hill apologized and changed the video, calling it an error.

On Thursday, Eugene, a member of Leadership St. Petersburg’s 2021 class, went into more detail. She said she thought she was offering comments on video to Sarah-Jane Vatelot about Vatelot’s book, Where Have All the Mangoes Gone?, which covers the history of the Tropicana Field site and includes an early version of the Sugar Hill redevelopment plan. Vatelot, an architect with St. Petersburg firm Behar + Peteranecz and a Leadership St. Petersburg classmate of Eugene’s, is also part of the Sugar Hill Community Partners team.

Related: Watch: Tropicana Field development bidders share video visions of St. Petersburg

“All the video interviews happened months ago, and we didn’t know all the ways they could be used,” said Sugar Hill spokeswoman Missy Hurley.

Eugene said she didn’t think her participation in the video influenced the outcome of the scoring, and that there is no connection between her or the NAACP and Sugar Hill.

“(The public) should not infer a connection, not in any shape or form,” she said.