St. Petersburg mayor rejects Moffitt cancer project over affordable housing

The Moffitt Cancer Center was the first project considered under the Community Benefits Agreement.
The entrance to Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa.
The entrance to Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa. [ Courtesy of Moffitt Cancer Center ]
Published Aug. 12, 2022|Updated Aug. 12, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Ken Welch on Friday rejected plans for a new Moffitt cancer treatment clinic, residences and a hotel because he said it did not include enough affordable housing.

The redevelopment of the city-owned 800 block of 1st Avenue S was the first project subject to the city’s Community Benefits Agreement enacted under Welch’s predecessor. It was also Mayor Rick Kriseman who picked a group that included Moffitt to redevelop the property after the cancer hospital floated the proposal and was forced to compete against other bidders.

The Community Benefits program, launched last year, requires developments that cost $2 million or more and receive city funds of 20 percent or more of their cost, or $10 million regardless of cost, to reinvest in the community.

Depending on the amount of funding received, the requirements can include building new affordable or workforce housing or paying into a fund for those projects, paying into a fund to improve local schools, renovating historic buildings or providing job training.

The Moffitt mixed-use project included a 75,000-square-foot outpatient cancer center facility, a 200-key hotel, a residential tower with 400 units, ground floor retail and a public-access parking garage.

Proposed community benefits included designating 17.5% of residential units for affordable housing for those making at or below 80% of the area median income and workforce housing for those earning at or below 120% of the area median income. The original proposal only designated 10% of the units for discounted housing.

In a news release, the city said Welch negotiated to increase affordable housing units from 18 to 35, half of the overall allotment. But that fell short of his overall goal of 30%, or 120 units, allocated for affordable and workforce housing.

“This was a strategic decision based on community benefit, shared priorities and the significant value of the subject city land,” he said. “While we welcome the addition of this facility and hoped we could successfully negotiate this plan to meet our community benefit goals, negotiations did not meet needed affordable housing.”

Moffitt spokesperson Kim Polacek gave this statement: “Moffitt Cancer Center looks forward to exploring opportunities to serve our patients in Pinellas County. Making cancer care accessible to as many patients as possible is crucial to Moffitt’s mission of preventing and curing cancer.”

The project went through vetting by the Community Benefits Advisory Council. At its last meeting on Aug. 1, members took issue with the number of affordable units, but still voted in favor of it.

City Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders helped create the Community Benefits Agreement. She agreed with the mayor’s decision and said it felt like the project rode too much on the Moffitt name.

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Figgs-Sanders has also led the fight for considering rent control. She said Welch’s decision acknowledges those who spent hours Thursday sharing their stories of increasingly high rents in an unaffordable city.

“When it comes to city-owned land, we have to do due diligence,” she said. “It’s decisions like this that get to where we are for affordable housing.”

Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, also said Welch made the right call. With few city-owned parcels left, Steinocher said, the city was being diligent.

“I think the mayor’s spoken about priorities today,” Steinocher said. “I don’t know that anyone else’s priority is as important as housing.”

The deal was originally pitched to the city as an unsolicited bid by Atlanta developers TPA Group and St. Petersburg’s United Insurance Holdings Corp. That opened up the city to accepting competing proposals. Five other groups offered between $5 million and $16 million.

Kriseman selected the Moffitt Cancer Center team in the last two months of his tenure. Moffitt offered $5 million to redevelop the 4.6-acre lot. It was appraised for $24.1 million.

Welch’s decision is another undoing of one of Kriseman’s decisions in the last few months of his tenure. Earlier this summer, Welch restarted the redevelopment process for Tropicana Field.

The city could continue using the lot for parking and may issue a new request for proposals.