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Endorsements of Tropicana Field redevelopment plans sent to St. Pete City Hall

Recommendations have favored the Tampa Bay Rays and Hines and Sugar Hill Community Partners.
The Tampa Bay Rays in partnership with Hines presents their Tropicana Field redevelopment proposal at the Coliseum on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in St.Petersburg.
The Tampa Bay Rays in partnership with Hines presents their Tropicana Field redevelopment proposal at the Coliseum on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in St.Petersburg. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
Published Jan. 14

ST. PETERSBURG — Endorsements and letters of recommendation are trickling in about which team the city should pick to redevelop the Historic Gas Plant district, home to Tropicana Field.

As of Thursday, the city received three letters endorsing a specific development team and one letter from the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership offering recommendations to consider. Two letters endorsed the Tampa Bay Rays and Hines proposal, and one endorsed Sugar Hill Community Partners.

Mayor Ken Welch is expected to “make a major announcement” about the redevelopment effort at his State of the City address Jan. 30, which lines up with the city’s timeline of selecting a developer. Several members of his staff recently conducted a strengths and weaknesses report on each proposal.

Mark Ferguson, founder and owner of Ferg’s Sports Bar across the street from Tropicana Field, called the Tampa Bay Rays and Hines proposal “by far the best deal for the city to keep the Rays in St. Pete.”

“It would be a privilege to have a world class developer redevelop the Gas Plant District,” Ferguson wrote in an email Wednesday, giving kudos to the mayor for restarting the redevelopment process. “This time around we are guaranteed to keep the Rays in town by having Hines partner with them in the process. This is a win win for the city, citizens, and the Rays.”

Attorney Robert Heyman also urged Welch to approve the Hines/Rays proposal. A college baseball player turned attorney, he wrote that he is a strong supporter of keeping the Rays in St. Petersburg.

“It appears to be the most professional and considered plan that combines the type of urban development the city needs and provides the facilities and housing needs that the former residents and children of the Gas Plant neighborhood deserve,” Heyman said in an email Wednesday.

Related: Tropicana Field proposals’ pros and cons, as ranked by St. Petersburg officials

A group of pastors penned in December a letter of endorsement to Welch in favor of Sugar Hill. They touted the group’s community engagement, diversity and affordable housing pledge. The pastors held a news conference last May endorsing Sugar Hill, which was a finalist for a previous development effort under former Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“Their commitment is unmatched. The benefit to our community is without equal. The opportunity for inclusion in the development and long-term job creation from entry level upwards, undergirds our decision to support Sugar Hill as the right choice,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by Pastor Brian Brown, Pastor Clarence Williams, Bishop Manuel L. Sykes, Pastor Louis Murphy, The Sr. Rev. Wayne G. Thompson, Pastor Frank Peterman and Pastor Basha P. Jordan Jr.

Murphy is listed as an authorized person of Sugar Hill Group LLC on state records.

The St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership urged Welch to “select the team who will have the greatest likelihood of success.”

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“Ultimately, we think the most critical decision point must be the likelihood that the team can deliver on the commitments that have been made,” wrote CEO Jason Mathis. “Our position has always been that the most important aspect of choosing a development partner has less to do with bold promises. It is more about the potential partner’s experience that is relevant to this specific project at this time in our history.”

“Indeed, the worst possible outcome would be selecting a team who lacks the capacity to deliver on commitment(s) they make and seeing a painful history repeated through unfulfilled promises,” he wrote.

The city last month penned a $73,000 agreement with HR&A Advisors Inc. for another strengths and weaknesses report of each of the four proposals’ development team, proposed phasing and development timeline, financial terms and community benefits. That report is due next week.

The public is invited to submit feedback online and in writing at six city facilities until Jan. 23.