Kriseman picks two finalists for Trop redevelopment. Will it matter?

Midtown Development and Sugar Hill Community Partners are the finalists. But the City Council said it won’t vote on any proposals until the Rays’ situation is settled.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman selected Midtown Development and Sugar Hill Community Partners as the two finalists for the Tropicana Field redevelopment.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman selected Midtown Development and Sugar Hill Community Partners as the two finalists for the Tropicana Field redevelopment. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 28, 2021|Updated May 31, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman on Friday announced that he narrowed the proposals to redevelop Tropicana Field down to two developers.

Midtown Development and Sugar Hill Community Partners, led by San Francisco developer JMA Ventures, are the two remaining bidders.

“All four finalists have impressive visions for the site and the experience to execute this generational project,” Kriseman said in a statement, “but I believe the Midtown and Sugar Hill proposals best reflect the community’s desires.”

But City Council doesn’t desire to approve any developer to remake the 86-acre Trop site — one of the region’s most promising urban redevelopment projects — without knowing whether the Tampa Bay Rays will stay or go. St. Petersburg’s next mayor also likely desires to select the winning project instead of inheriting the choice of a lame duck mayor.

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

There’s no shortage of reasons why Kriseman’s decision is mired in uncertainty.

First, there’s a showdown within City Hall. Last month, council members passed a resolution making it clear they will not vote on a development agreement with Kriseman’s ultimate winner until the Rays, who are bound to play in the Trop through the 2027 season, decide whether to build a new stadium on the site.

But Rays’ ownership is embroiled in legal problems. Last week a group of minority owners sued principal owner Stu Sternberg and accused him trying to wrest control away from them and sell a stake to a Montreal group. Sternberg has denied the allegations.

This week, Kriseman said he “can’t negotiate” with Sternberg while the case is pending and called for the managing partner to relinquish control of the team. The Rays continue to pursue a split-season plan to play half its games in Montreal, and this week the Tampa Bay Times reported that the team has had talks with Hillsborough County officials and expressed interest in Nashville.

Kriseman also leaves office in January, which is why the Trop project is one of the major issues in the race to replace him. The top four candidates believe the Trop decision should be left to the next mayor.

Still, the two proposals give residents a glimpse of what the dome and vast parking lot of Tropicana Field could one day look like. Booker Creek is a central feature of the Midtown and Sugar Hill proposals. Both promise robust culture elements that would honor and memorialize the history and memory of the Gas Plant District, a mostly Black neighborhood that was torn down to build the Trop. Both proposals also promise to incorporate acres of parks, plus office space, housing, retail, arts, and research and higher education components.

Related: Four proposals make St. Petersburg’s shortlist for Tropicana Field site project

Midtown’s project calls for the developer to invest $2.7 to $3.8 billion in the site, depending on how much density is selected. The company proposes buying the property from the city for $60 million, including handing over $10 million at closing. Midtown also committed to spending at least $94 million on public improvements, plus another $5 million in grants for minority-owned small businesses, and asked for $75 million in public dollars for infrastructure.

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A rendering depicting Midtown Development's "Creekside" proposal.
A rendering depicting Midtown Development's "Creekside" proposal. [ Midtown Development ]

Dubbed Creekside, the project would include 6,000 to 8,000 residential units. The proposal contains conflicting offers of affordable and workforce housing, offering at least 1,000 units. The project also calls for a 510-room hotel and 50,000 square feet of conference space.

Midtown has experience developing sizable master-planned projects: it built the 18-square block, 62-acre Midtown Miami city-within-a-city atop the former Buena Vista Rail Yard. It also owns the 22-acre Orlando Sentinel site, former downtown home of the newspaper, which is now a master-planned project.

Sugar Hill’s proposal calls for roughly the same amount of investment: $2.6 billion if it doesn’t include a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, but that goes up to $3.1 billion if the team want a new stadium on the site. But Sugar Hill’s proposal calls for $837 million in public financing, more than 11 times what Midtown is asking for.

Sugar Hill calls for less overall housing — 2,000 to 3,200 residential units — but promises at least 50 percent of those will be designated at the affordable or workforce income levels. Some units would be reserved for an “artist-in-residence” program.

This rendering shows an aerial view of a proposed Tropicana Field site in St. Petersburg, as envisioned by a team of developers led by JMA Ventures and Sugar Hill Community Partners.
This rendering shows an aerial view of a proposed Tropicana Field site in St. Petersburg, as envisioned by a team of developers led by JMA Ventures and Sugar Hill Community Partners. [ Sugar Hill Community Partners ]

Sugar Hill wishes to build two hotels, one with 500 rooms and another 150-room “lifestyle” hotel, and a 1.1 million-square-foot convention center.

The Sugar Hill team includes developers and real estate investors whose projects include Atlanta’s Ponce City Market, San Francisco’s Chase Center, the St. Pete Pier and Water Street Tampa. The name Sugar Hill comes from a neighborhood within the Gas Plant District that was destroyed to make way for the Interstate 175 spur.

”We’re incredibly passionate about this project, we’re really passionate about St. Petersburg and where it’s headed and the role the Trop can play in that future,” said David Carlock, the founder and principal of Machete Group Inc. and the development manager for Sugar Hill’s proposal. “To have the opportunity to play a role in that is very exciting to us.”

When it comes to the twists and turns of the Rays news, Carlock said his group’s experience with sports teams — plus the fact that each developer had to envision the site with or without a stadium — made them prepared for added “complexity.”

”On different projects the complexities take different forms but there is always complexity, and here part of that happens to be the Rays, which we’ve known and appreciated from Day 1 that would be an important part of how things turn out,” he said.

Midtown Development principal Alex Vadia released this statement:

“We’re honored to work with a team of talent recognized both locally and nationally for their specialties. Together with the Pinellas County Urban League, we will continue to shape our plans with integral input from the community.

“We’re approaching the project not only as developers, but as investors. We are willing to invest the significant capital necessary to make the redevelopment of the site a success in creating benefits for the community now and for the future.”

Representatives from Unicorp did not respond to a request for comment.

Kriseman’s selection meant Atlanta’s Portman Holdings, which partnered with Tampa Bay investment firm Third Lake Partners, was eliminated, as was a proposal by Orlando’s Unicorp National Development. Third Lake Partners CEO Ken Jones said he was “honored to be included in the process,” and wished the eventual winner well. He said he hopes “that the development turns out to be a huge success for the city of St Petersburg.”

What happens next is unclear. Last week, before the Rays’ suit was filed, Kriseman wrote a memo to City Council saying he intended to narrow the developers down and that the two finalists would give presentations at an upcoming council meeting. But Council chair Ed Montanari wrote back that he will not schedule any such presentations.

In the mayor’s memo, Kriseman said the Rays will have an opportunity to meet with the final two developers to review their plans and discuss stadium collaboration. The mayor said after presentations are made to council, team executives, city staff and the public would get to offer input.

Montanari announced on Friday that he will host a Tuesday morning news conference at the Trop to discuss the future of the Rays in St. Petersburg.

Editor’s note: This story was updated May 30 with a statement from Midtown Development.