ST. PETERSBURG — A crowd of 400 took in big numbers, eye-popping renderings and passionate pledges to do right by the Black community displaced to build Tropicana Field.
The four development teams hoping to win the bid to redevelop the Historic Gas Plant District made their pitches to the public for why they should lead the generational project on Wednesday night at a packed Coliseum. Another 350 people registered to watch the presentations online.
Sugar Hill Community Partners, Restoration Associates, Hines and the Tampa Bay Rays and 50 Plus 1 Sports each responded to the city’s request for proposals by the December deadline. Each group gave 20-minute presentations in reverse alphabetical order.
Mayor Ken Welch will announce his pick for a developer at his State of the City address during the week of Jan. 30. The public can submit feedback online and in writing at six city facilities until Jan. 23.
Welch sat front and center taking pages of notes. He said “two or three” of the developers were “very responsive” to the priorities laid out in the city’s request for proposals, but wouldn’t name them.
“The other was more broad,” he said. “So I think they all were responsive, some are more detailed.”
Welch said he was looking for common themes in public comments to guide his decision making. City officials said they received hundreds of questions and sorted through them to ask three multi-part questions about financing for affordable housing, community benefits and how their proposal fits into the city’s culture.
When asked if there were any lingering questions about the proposals, “There were some interesting comments about, you know, one group says no city funding,” Welch said, referring to 50 Plus 1 Sports’ proposal. “Well, I want to see how that works.”
Sugar Hill went first, emphasizing that they are the only development team that participated in the first request for proposals and then was deemed a finalist under former Mayor Rick Kriseman. They emphasized their team and strength in diversity and pledged 50% of their units toward affordable and workforce housing, which meets the city’s goal for the Gas Plant District.
“This is the kind of project that comes around once in a generation,” said former Sacramento mayor, NBA star and Sugar Hill principal Kevin Johnson. “St. Pete deserves nothing less than the very best.”
E. William Henry of Restoration Associates emphasized three points: A transit-oriented development of the likes of Tampa International Airport, restoring the Gas Plant District Neighborhood and retaining Major League Baseball as a regional asset. Led by RGA Design in Tampa, Henry said they are the only Florida-based team. Their plan also calls for self-storage units.
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“We’re going to have up to 5,000 (residential) units,” Henry said. “Where are they going to put their furniture? It’s a great first step.”
The Tampa Bay Rays and their development partner, Hines, said their project guarantees a new ballpark and phase 1 done by the 2028 season. They offered a seamless project between the 17-acre ballpark controlled by the Rays and the Gas Plant District.
Gwendolyn Reese, president of the African American Heritage Association, said she joined the Rays and Hines team because they earned her trust. She asked descendants of the Gas Plant District to stand and be recognized.
Up last was Monti Valrie, who said he created 50 Plus 1 Sports to reflect his company’s mission: Requiring 50% women, veterans and minority participation for every development project.
“When I saw the mayor’s request, the RFP, it really spoke to me,” Valrie said. “I think RFPs are a waste of the body for minorities. We’re never the first people in the room when an RFP is put together. We’re in the last one.”