ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Ken Welch is slated to make a big decision by the end of this month: selecting a developer to reimagine the Historic Gas Plant District, home to Tropicana Field.
Last month, city officials gave a preliminary assessment of each proposal’s strengths and weaknesses across categories: development team, reference projects and experience, incorporation of the request for proposals’ 23 guiding principles, local hiring, small and minority business participation, community benefits and outreach, financial information, timing and development of phasing and their land acquisition offer.
The evaluations were not scored and were prepared by leaders from seven city departments.
Over the holiday, the city asked clarifying questions to each proposer. Those responses were posted online Tuesday. City officials will update their evaluations by the end of the week.
Restoration Associates, led by Tampa’s RGA Design, bills itself as the only local development group of the four bidders. But that may be the main thing going for them, according to city staff, whose comments on the group’s weaknesses far outnumbered the strengths.
Officials gave kudos for their local experience and for using minority- and women-owned firms. But they noted that the group lacked experience dealing not only with sports stadiums, but also with a project of the Historic Gas Plant District’s scope and size. They also found that the group only responded to five out of 32 guiding principles as outlined in the city’s request for proposals.
They noted that the proposal was “confusing,” “hard to read,” “lacks detail” and “missed the intent” of the bid solicitation.
Sugar Hill Community Partners
Sugar Hill is the only group that applied and became one of two finalists under the first request for proposals by former Mayor Rick Kriseman. This proposal offers the fastest timeline, beginning construction in 2023 and finishing in 2034.
Officials lauded the group for its “strong proposal,” thoughtful responses and local representation. While lauding its diversity and community engagement, several officials had questions about how a broad development team with over 60 firms and individuals could cohesively work together.
While noting Sugar Hill’s collective experience with large, mixed-use projects in Tampa Bay and nationwide, officials noted that some references take credit for an entire project when their experience comes down to a specific role.
Officials appreciated the efforts to reconnect the grid from the Gas Plant neighborhood and the strong commitment to using minority-owned businesses and affordable housing.
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Sugar Hill is hoping the mayor will “split the baby” and let the Rays develop their own ballpark while Sugar Hill develops the rest of the property.
There is no proposed financing structure. The plan leans on tax-increment financing and housing credits, plus $39 million in public subsidy for a conference center.
As for the land, the proposal calls for paying the city fair market value for commercially developed properties.
50 Plus 1 Sports
50 Plus 1 Sports was created with a commitment to using minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses for 50% of its sports stadium developments. It is a 100% minority-owned firm.
City officials responded positively to that, but said that the proposal lacks details, an affordable housing partner and experience with completed projects. Many of the referenced projects include involvement from one or some of the development team members but not with 50 Plus 1 as the lead developer.
Brejesh Prayman, the engineering and capital improvements director, pointed out that there is no mention of infrastructure or plan to support the development, sewer, water or electric.
Officials also were vexed by the lack of financial information. The project calls for a zero-dollar, 99-year lease on the property, with a revenue-sharing program with the city. It is not clear how revenue will be achieved.
Hines and the Tampa Bay Rays
City officials seemed to like this proposal. They noted its comprehensive team and approach to the city’s guiding principles.
They see a strong master developer in Hines, the large real estate investment and management firm, and its relevant portfolio, and like the 50-50 partnership between the Rays and Hines for use beyond baseball. Several evaluators noted the more than 30 letters of support from business, organizations and community leaders.
The Hines/Rays team promises 23% on-site affordable and workforce housing total, with only 15% of that portion on-site. Reviewers also noted that the developers have a 10% commitment to using women- and minority-owned businesses, though the proposers have higher aspirational goals.
The Hines/Rays proposal assumes that $150 million in infrastructure costs will come from tax-increment financing.