ST. PETERSBURG — Four applicants have submitted bids in response to the second request for proposals to redevelop Tropicana Field and remake a swath of downtown once home to generations of Black families and commerce.
At least two are familiar to the city.
One is Sugar Hill Community Partners, a finalist under the first request for proposals issued under former Mayor Rick Kriseman. It has submitted a proposal it says will show a sizeable commitment to affordable housing. The second is the Tampa Bay Rays in partnership with Hines, a global real estate investor and developer firm. Hines was the Rays’ development partner when the team looked at Al Lang Field as a potential new stadium site in 2007-08.
The city identified the other two bidders as 50 Plus 1 Sports and Restoration Associates.
Monti Valrie, a managing partner for Coral Gables-based 50 Plus 1 Sports, said he believes the proposal answers every criterion the city asked for without using tax subsidies, but otherwise declined to comment until the city releases details from each of the bidders. The city provided a Hotmail email contact address for Valrie. The website for 50 Plus 1 Sports was registered in February.
“I think we have the most aggressive plan for including minority- and women-owned businesses,” Valrie said, adding that the company requires 50% participation from these businesses in every project they fund.
E. William Henry, listed with the city as a representative of Restoration Associates, declined to comment.
The city also announced Friday that a community presentation is scheduled for Jan. 4 at the Coliseum, where the public is invited to hear each proposer provide an overview of their respective plans. Proposers, however, said they were not aware that the city had scheduled that presentation. Welch is slated to choose a developer by the end of January.
The city only released the names of the bidding groups after a 10 a.m. submission deadline on Friday. A city spokesperson said officials needed time to review the proposals for potential exemptions from public disclosure under state law, such as confidential financial information. The proposals are expected to be released to the public next week.
“We will review the proposers’ plans with a keen eye on their interpretation of affordable and workforce housing; office and meeting space; arts and culture; research, innovation, and education; recreation; open space, healthy and sustainable development; and intentional equity,” Mayor Ken Welch said in a statement.
The project is meant to breathe new life into the 86 acres of prime downtown real estate. It is considered to be a sweeping opportunity to further transform downtown St. Petersburg, which has blossomed into a vibrant city center over the last decade. The Rays’ current lease on the property expires in 2027.
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The city invited the Rays to submit a proposal. Hines, their development partner, developed and sold Azure, a luxury multifamily residential complex in St. Petersburg’s Carillon Park, a mixed-use master-planned community. Hines also developed the San Diego Padres’ Petco Park and the Toyota Center for the Houston Rockets.
“We’re very excited to have them on board,” Rays president Brian Auld told the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s going to be so important to a downtown. But with the Rays, it’s even more important that we have certainty of both the quality and the timeliness of delivery.”
Sugar Hill, a team led by JMA Ventures from San Francisco, announced this week that its project will designate 50% of about 5,000 residential units to affordable housing. They also announced that their team is joined by Blue Sky Communities, an affordable housing developer led by Scott Macdonald, who chairs the city’s affordable housing advisory committee, and the St. Petersburg Housing Authority. The team emphasizes its diversity and local connections.
“As a former mayor, you know, projects like the historic Gas Plant District only come around once in a generation,” said Sugar Hill’s principal, former Sacramento mayor and NBA player Kevin Johnson. “They’re not normal. And we believe that we have a responsibility to get it right.”
In August, Welch canceled the original request for proposals issued by Kriseman in the summer of 2020. He said the new request for proposals should factor in current costs due to the economic fallout of the pandemic and the city’s affordable housing crisis. His new request for proposals rebranded the project as the Historic Gas Plant District, a homage to the Black community that was paved over to build Tropicana Field. Welch’s family is from that neighborhood.
Kriseman had narrowed nine proposals to two finalists, Sugar Hill and Miami’s Midtown Development. Kriseman chose Midtown as a developer days before he left office. When Welch canceled that bid, Midtown thanked the city and wished Welch the best of luck.
St. Petersburg investment firm Third Lake Partners, which teamed up to a submit a bid under Kriseman, was among the top four finalists before the field was shrunk to two finalists. They did not apply for the new request for proposals.
“We’re excited about the prospects for development on Tropicana Field. We think it represents one of the best redevelopment opportunities in a major city on the East Coast of the U.S.,” said founder and managing partner Ken Jones. “But for now we’ve chosen not to resubmit a response to the RFP process.”
The new request for proposals was issued in September. It called for a 17.3-acre set-aside for a new baseball stadium and lots of affordable and workforce housing, plus an emphasis on opportunities for minority-owned contractors. It also asked that proposals include plans for a hotel with conference space and incorporate Booker Creek and connections to the Pinellas Trail and surrounding neighborhoods.
The city held a meeting in September for interested proposers to learn more. Sign-in sheets show about 65 developers, engineers and architects signed up in person and online. Many of the city’s responses to developers were open-ended, leaving them to come up with the proposals that best follow 23 guidelines shaped by community feedback and set forth by Welch.
The city in October quietly moved back the deadline to submit proposals at the request of the Rays, who asked for more time following Hurricane Ian. Sugar Hill said they were “disappointed” by the delay.
That shifted the timeline for the redevelopment. According to the city’s website, Welch will select a recommended developer in January.
Unlike typical requests for proposals, there are no explicit selection criteria. Nor is there weighted scoring that rewards developers for including sought-after features. No selection committee has been created to make a recommendation to Welch, as is often the case with big public-private ventures.
A term sheet will be completed with the chosen developer in May, and the development agreement would be presented to the City Council for approval in September or October 2023.