St. Petersburg’s redevelopment process begins with Rays pick. What happens now?

Mayor Ken Welch says the city and the Rays are engaged and moving toward a wedding.
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, left, talks with Hines senior managing director Michael Harrison and Tampa Bay Rays co-President Brian Auld after the mayor gave his 2023 State of the City address on the steps of City Hall on Monday.
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, left, talks with Hines senior managing director Michael Harrison and Tampa Bay Rays co-President Brian Auld after the mayor gave his 2023 State of the City address on the steps of City Hall on Monday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 31|Updated Jan. 31

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Ken Welch took a big swing this week by announcing he had picked the Tampa Bay Rays and real estate group Hines to build a new stadium and transform the land around it.

The pick strengthens the probability of the Rays playing on-site past 2027 in a way that hasn’t seemed likely in recent years. For now, it sets in motion a chain of events that could one day result in the creation of a new district for people to live, play and work. But a year or more could pass before we really know if that’s going to happen. In the meantime, the team continues to talk with people who want to see the Rays move to Tampa.

Welch’s decision is not a done deal. The day after Welch’s decision, city staff and the Rays/Hines group are trying to figure out what’s next.

Are the Rays staying in St. Pete for sure?

“We’re engaged today, and we are moving towards a wedding. And I believe they should be committed to St. Pete,” Welch said Monday. “Particularly when one of the entities that’s helping to pay for the wedding, so to speak, is the county commission and for them to put those dollars forward, there will have to be a commitment to the city of St. Petersburg.”

The Rays, however, aren’t quite ready to be monogamous. Rays co-president Brian Auld said the team is “fully engaged” to St. Petersburg, but is “continuing the dialogue” with Tampa and Hillsborough County. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said her city is “keeping the door open” and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said they’re “on the clock” to negotiate a deal with the Rays.

So, what would it take for the Rays to commit?

“We’ll need to see some votes happen. We’ll need to see some funding allocated and we’ll need to see some more handshakes and celebration,” Auld said.

Official votes and funding mean signing off on a legally binding development agreement before putting together a new use agreement to keep the Rays on the Trop site past 2027, he said, when the current agreement expires.

But that’s not quite the city’s plan.

Brian Caper, the city’s point of contact regarding the redevelopment, said last week that the city would like to have a new use agreement in place first for a stadium (which would need City Council approval) while working on a nonbinding term sheet. Then the city would hash out terms for the development around it and how much public funding there will be.

So this could be the engaged couple’s first disagreement over wedding arrangements.

What is City Hall doing now?

City officials are gearing up to put together a new use agreement with the Rays and a term sheet. They are looking to possibly bring on outside legal counsel and consultants to help with the process.

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While a use agreement would require City Council approval, a term sheet does not. A term sheet gives a broad outline of what the development around the stadium will actually include.

The city wants to complete the term sheet by May. The city would like to also have a new use agreement in place by then before moving on to a legally binding development agreement. The city’s timeline has that being presented to City Council by October.

The Rays would like to see an aggressive timeline, as they would like to have a new ballpark in time for Opening Day in 2028.

“And here’s hoping that happens as soon as it possibly can,” Auld said.

How does the Rays/Hines proposal give the mayor what he wanted?

The city’s request for proposals is not traditional. It didn’t come with weighted selection criteria or get scored by an evaluation committee. The decision fell solely to Mayor Ken Welch, who said he wanted a significant investment in affordable housing and opportunities for minority-owned contractors.

Welch said Monday that the Rays/Hines $50 million community benefits package meets a few of those guidelines. It includes $15 million in housing southern St. Petersburg residents; $13 million for minority- and women-owned business incubation, with ownership and placement opportunities on site; $3.75 million for diverse hiring and supplier contracts for construction projects; $17.5 million to support education programs and $10 million plus a new home for the Woodson African American Museum of Florida.

The Rays/Hines team plan 1,459 total affordable housing units, on- and off-site, though Welch would like to see that increase.

What does the Major League Baseball commissioner say about this?

In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday morning, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said: “Thank you to Mayor Welch for reaffirming St. Petersburg’s commitment to Major League Baseball and the Tampa Bay Rays. We look forward to working with the Mayor to secure the Rays’ long-term future in Tampa Bay.”

What if the Rays leave town?

I hate to go there. I don’t see that happening,” Welch said. “We’re focused on making this a success.”

In that worst-case scenario, international real estate investment and development group Hines would still be the lead developer for the parts of the property that don’t include a ballpark. Hines senior managing director Michael Harrison said without the Rays, the redevelopment would be a “very different project.”

“When you don’t have the kind of anchor tenant that the Rays represent to that project and all that spirals off of that in terms of adjacent activities ... the site plan and the master plan would need to be revisited,” he said.