St. Petersburg seeks new proposals for Tropicana Field redevelopment

The Historic Gas Plant District request for proposals is big on promoting affordable housing and minority-owned firms.
Mayor Ken Welch speaks to St. Petersburg residents during a community conversation about the redevelopment of the Historic Gas Plant District at the Center for Health Equity in on Tuesday, July 12, 2022 in St. Petersburg.
Mayor Ken Welch speaks to St. Petersburg residents during a community conversation about the redevelopment of the Historic Gas Plant District at the Center for Health Equity in on Tuesday, July 12, 2022 in St. Petersburg. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
Published Aug. 26, 2022|Updated Aug. 26, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — In a video announcement, Mayor Ken Welch on Friday unveiled the new request for proposals to redevelop Tropicana Field and its 86 acres.

The 33-page request calls for a 17.3-acre carve out for a new baseball stadium and lots of affordable and workforce housing. The new solicitation adds two more overarching principles for a total of 23 guidelines, the latest emphasizing both the need for affordable housing and opportunities for minority-owned contractors.

“Nearly 40 years ago, members of the Historic Gas Plant community were displaced by the ultimately successful pursuit of Major League Baseball and eventual construction of what is now Tropicana Field,” read a news release. “While the move brought our city the Tampa Bay Rays, then known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, residents and businesses were forced to relocate with the promise of jobs, opportunity and equitable development which did not materialize.

The city now has the opportunity to fulfill those promises, it said, and build something that benefits the whole community.

Earlier this summer, Welch canceled the original bid request issued under former Mayor Rick Kriseman in 2020. Between the economic fallout of the pandemic and an affordable housing crisis, too much had changed in the past two years, Welch said, and the project warranted a fresh look.

Plus, Welch said he didn’t think enough was being done to reflect a commitment to hiring minority contractors and honoring the Gas Plant community, the historically Black neighborhood where his family lived.

The deadline to submit proposals is Nov. 18. The city is in a time crunch as the Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field expires in 2027.

There is a meeting open to the public that is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 12 for city staff to go over the history of the site, what it considers equitable economic development, transportation, public works, environmental conditions and housing. They will also seek private sector input and answer questions.

Competitive responses must honor the history and legacy of the Historic Gas Plant District site and fulfill past promises made to its residents that they would benefit from the original baseball stadium project. They are encouraged to maximize the number of affordable and workforce housing units on site and offer additional units off-site that could be either rented or owned. The city is also seeking a financial contribution to the construction of affordable units citywide or innovative solutions to address the city’s housing goals.

They should incorporate the findings of the city’s structural racism and disparity studies. They also must detail plans for how they plan to remediate potential environmental issues with the former Oaklawn Cemetery, which was west of 16th Street S., and implement suggestions from a series of community meetings held this summer.

Would-be developers also are asked to include flexibility for office space demand, opportunities for local and small businesses, a possible medium-sized convention space tied to a flagship hotel that can be expanded with demand and shared parking for public and ballpark use.

Many demands from the previous request for proposals issued under former Mayor Rick Kriseman are still in play. They include job creation opportunities, priority hiring for residents in the designated St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area and a mixed-use development.

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Related: Welch: As St. Petersburg moves forward, new Tropicana Field must honor the past

Pinellas County and St. Petersburg officials have met with financial consultants to go over funding scenarios. A “substantial portion” for the redevelopment will come from the county, Welch told the Tampa Bay Times this week.

“It has to be a 365-day community asset,” he said. “And not just a baseball stadium. And the Rays agree with that.”

Tampa Bay Rays President Matt Silverman gave a brief statement Friday.

“We appreciate Mayor Welch’s continued efforts to keep baseball at the forefront of this new process and look forward to reviewing the RFP,” he said.

Kriseman selected two firms as finalists to redevelop Tropicana Field. They were Sugar Hill, a group led by San Francisco developers JMA Ventures, and Miami’s Midtown Development.

Kriseman picked Midtown as a developer weeks before he left office. Midtown has said it would not rebid on the new solicitation. Sugar Hill is, and hopes the Rays will be their partner.

“We are looking forward to reviewing the new Historic Gas Plant District RFP and preparing a first-class response,” Sugar Hill Community Partners said Friday in a statement. “St. Petersburg has a unique opportunity to fulfill the true promise of the site and we look forward to developing and sharing our vision for the project.”

Friday’s news release included a 36-page summary of feedback provided by 1,027 residents during three public “community conversations” forums and one business forum.

They included requests for basing housing costs on actual income, not area median income; keeping the land city-owned; imposing rent controls or rent caps. There also was emphasis on greenspace, arts and culture, and transportation.

In response to one question, the city also listed some of the promises made to Gas Plant District residents before Tropicana Field was built. They included prioritizing displaced individuals and families for housing or home ownership and jobs during the construction and after completion.

Support for a new baseball stadium was mixed.