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Midtown vs. Sugar Hill: Who will get the redeveloper bid for Tropicana Field?

An “important announcement” on Tropicana Field’s future is coming June 30, said Mayor Ken Welch.
An aerial view of Tropicana Field and the surrounding area looking east towards downtown, on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 in St. Petersburg.
An aerial view of Tropicana Field and the surrounding area looking east towards downtown, on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times (2021) ]
Published Jun. 15|Updated Jun. 17

ST. PETERSBURG — After a 2½-year process, Mayor Ken Welch says an “important announcement” on the future of Tropicana Field is coming at the end of the month.

The St. Petersburg mayor has been on a fact-finding mission for the billion-dollar, 86-acre deal. He’s asked for more information from the two developer finalists, Miami’s Midtown Development and Sugar Hill, a group led by San Francisco developers JMA Ventures.

Since then, both have refined their proposals, with one sweetening its bid with more components intended to appeal to the community, and courted civic backers. More endorsements have come out. Sugar Hill made several changes while Midtown clarified its dollar commitments.

Welch recently tacked on a visit to Sacramento to see JMA Ventures’ work, including a project that incorporates a sports arena, following a trip to Reno, Nevada for a conference. He called the trip “very enlightening.”

“It brought some insights into how that particular arena project was integrated into Sacramento and also the progress they were able to make in terms of redevelopment of a historically Black area of town,” he said of the Sacramento Kings Entertainment and Sports Center. “It was a worthwhile trip.”

But Welch said he needs the Tampa Bay Rays to make a decision on whether the team wants to play future home games in St. Petersburg or Tampa in order to go before the county and ask for money from the bed tax, a levy imposed on tourist accommodations, to finance a new ballpark. He told the Tampa Bay Times he met with Rays President Brian Auld on Friday and had a meeting Monday to discuss Tropicana Field.

Will the Rays choose St. Petersburg or Tampa? The answer could come this month

“They need to make a decision in terms of which side of the bay they want to be on and if this particular site works for them,” he said. “We’ve asked them for that. They know we need that information, and we are expecting it.”

Welch said the Rays “understand” his June 30 timeline.

“We will have an important announcement on June 30 on the future of Tropicana Field,” he said. “Our announcement will clarify all of that.”

Here is where the proposals stand:

Team Midtown

This rendering shows a proposed water pavilion along Booker Creek in St. Petersburg, envisioned by Miami's Midtown Development as part of its proposed redevelopment of the city's 86-acre Tropicana Field site. Mayor Rick Kriseman on Dec. 2 officially endorsed Midtown's proposal.
This rendering shows a proposed water pavilion along Booker Creek in St. Petersburg, envisioned by Miami's Midtown Development as part of its proposed redevelopment of the city's 86-acre Tropicana Field site. Mayor Rick Kriseman on Dec. 2 officially endorsed Midtown's proposal. [ Midtown Development ]

If it was up to the last mayor, Midtown would’ve gotten the deal.

Rick Kriseman made his pick with just over a month left of his tenure. Watson Haynes, president and CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League, and Gwendolyn Reese, president of the African American Heritage Association, stood by his side.

Kriseman said he picked the Miami developer because of the group’s resources and collaborative nature. Welch has since visited Miami to see Midtown’s work there.

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Housing: 6,000 to 8,000 total units; 800 affordable units for those making at or below 80% of the area median income; and 400 to 800 workforce units for those making 81% to 120% of the area median income.

Convention center and hotel: One 510-room hotel and 50,000-square-foot conference center. The developer has added another 200,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor office space.

Stadium: Midtown’s development timeline reserves the land between Booker Creek and 16th Street for the Rays, should the the team choose to stay. “It is our hope that the Rays remain onsite. A world-class sporting facility at the project could be a fantastic complement to the neighborhood and we look forward to continuing the conversations,” Midtown wrote in its follow-up.

Community benefits: Midtown totaled $238 million in community investments — more than the $190 million outlined in its original proposal. That includes $10 million for a local retail storefront program to make spaces ready for independent local businesses to move in, $5 million for affordable housing and another $5 million for grants to minority-owned businesses to meet the city’s most pressing needs.

Cost: $2.7 billion to $3.8 billion, depending on density. Midtown would buy the property from the city for $60 million, which will come in installments. The first would be $10 million at closing. It requests no more than $75 million in tax-increment financing from the city for infrastructure. Stadium costs did not factor into Midtown’s estimates. The group says it is on the hook for any economic factors beyond costs outlined, such as inflation.

Team Sugar Hill

This screengrab from a video by Sugar Hill Community Partners and JMA Ventures shows a proposed new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, part of their $3 billion proposal to redevelop St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field site. The four development teams shortlisted for the site submitted video versions of their proposals that will be used as the city nears the public comment phase of the Trop redevelopment process.
This screengrab from a video by Sugar Hill Community Partners and JMA Ventures shows a proposed new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, part of their $3 billion proposal to redevelop St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field site. The four development teams shortlisted for the site submitted video versions of their proposals that will be used as the city nears the public comment phase of the Trop redevelopment process. [ Sugar Hill Community Partners ]

A group of Black pastors was recently treated to a trip to Sacramento by JMA Ventures to see its work there, hosted by former NBA player and Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson. They came back and wholeheartedly endorsed the Sugar Hill group, calling themselves part of the “Sugar Hill Gang.”

“We were already impressed by the Sugar Hill team’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion before the trip. However, that view has been affirmed and exponentially increased by our time in Sacramento,” said a letter sent to Welch and signed by Bishop Manuel Sykes and pastors Brian Brown, Kenneth Irby, Clarence Williams and Frank Peterman Jr.

Housing: 4,800 to 6,300 total units, depending on the ballpark. Up to 1,917 affordable units for those making at or below 80% of the area median income and up to 1,248 workforce units for those making 81% to 120% of the area median income.

Convention center and hotel: Much smaller than first proposed, from 1.2 million square feet down to 150,000 square feet, to give more space for affordable housing, along with a 500-room hotel.

Stadium: A 25,000-seat stadium on the northeast corner of the property, closest to downtown and Central Avenue, with views from nearby buildings akin to Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Community benefits: These are new: A $5 million pledge to fund a Community Equity Endowment, where the developer sets aside a profit interest in the project at the outset and contributes it to the community. That’s alongside $1 million to The Woodson African American Museum of Florida’s capital campaign for a new museum and another $5 million for a renovation of Campbell Park to connect Tropicana Field to the south.

In the original plan, the group estimated 20% of the construction jobs would go to people in the southern part of the city, where many Black residents live. Now Sugar Hill pledges 20% Minority Business Enterprise inclusion across all phases, “design, construction and operations.”

Cost: Approximately $3.1 billion in construction costs with a stadium; $2.6 billion without. Sugar Hill is offering $106 million for the land, however, the team said it will reevaluate its financial offer to reflect additional development capacity on the site.

Aside from the $75 million in tax-increment financing from the city’s community redevelopment area that was offered to both developers, Sugar Hill is seeking $161 million from existing federal and state affordable housing programs. Sugar Hill also recently told the city that due to inflation and supply chain issues, “It is clear that the cost of the project will be higher than originally anticipated.”

Times staff writer Jay Cridlin contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct how much public funding Sugar Hill is seeking after it reduced its convention center footprint. The update also clarifies how much Sugar Hill is offering for the land.

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