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If Tropicana Field gets redeveloped, U-Haul next door is here to stay

U-Haul’s regional marketing president says the mini storage warehouse is “not going anywhere.”
 
A spokesperson for U-Haul Moving and Storage at Tropicana Field, which many fans pass on their way to Tampa Bay Rays games, says no one has talked to the company about how it might fit in with plans for a new entertainment district and baseball stadium on its doorstep.
A spokesperson for U-Haul Moving and Storage at Tropicana Field, which many fans pass on their way to Tampa Bay Rays games, says no one has talked to the company about how it might fit in with plans for a new entertainment district and baseball stadium on its doorstep. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Jan. 19

ST. PETERSBURG — City leaders and the Tampa Bay Rays hope to turn Tropicana Field and the sea of asphalt around it into a picturesque backdrop where people stroll along Booker Creek on their way to dinner and a show — or a ballgame.

It’ll also remain a destination for all their storage and moving needs.

Even with plans underway for $6.5 billion in public and private money to redevelop the Trop, there are no plans to acquire or convert the Tropicana U-Haul Moving and Storage center that would be about 500 feet — or a tape-measure homer — from the new stadium. Not a single official from the city or the Rays development team has asked about the land and six-story building at First Avenue South and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street South.

So with a parking lot crammed with moving trucks, the building and its retro-tropical beige facade will serve as an industrial gateway between a booming downtown and a sleek, new entertainment district.

U-Haul Moving & Storage at Tropicana Field sits a tape-measure homer from where the new Tampa Bay Rays stadium is planned as part of a larger entertainment district.
U-Haul Moving & Storage at Tropicana Field sits a tape-measure homer from where the new Tampa Bay Rays stadium is planned as part of a larger entertainment district. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

“Nothing’s going to happen to it. It’ll be a U-Haul,” said Mike Wise, U-Haul’s marketing president for 20 locations in Pinellas and Pasco counties since 2013. “We own the business there, they’re not going anywhere. The city will have to figure out what they’re going to do. We’ll continue to serve the community and be a U-Haul.”

This map shows the current and potential future location of the Tampa Bay Rays' stadium and the U-Haul Moving & Storage location that's been around since 1979. A U-Haul official says the business is "not going anywhere," even if the area is redeveloped into the Historic Gas Plant District.
This map shows the current and potential future location of the Tampa Bay Rays' stadium and the U-Haul Moving & Storage location that's been around since 1979. A U-Haul official says the business is "not going anywhere," even if the area is redeveloped into the Historic Gas Plant District. [ RON BORRESEN | Times ]

As for whether his company would be willing to discuss selling the property, Wise said that’s never been “asked, discussed or thought about” and said those decisions were above him.

“Nobody has approached us on anything. We’re business as usual,” Wise told the Times. “You’re the first person to ask about it.”

Officials with Mayor Ken Welch’s administration and the Rays confirmed that’s true.

“As the situation stands today, the City of St. Petersburg has not attempted to acquire the U-Haul property,” said City Development Administrator James Corbett in a statement by text from a city spokesperson.

U-Haul, a family-owned company based in Phoenix, owns 1.36 acres on two parcels on that block. It acquired and refurbished the former Webb’s City furniture building in 1979. The Pinellas County property appraiser puts the market value on both of U-Haul’s lots at a combined $6 million.

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The city owns two vacant parcels on both sides of the north part of the block. Corbett said that those parcels would not be redeveloped as part of the Historic Gas Plant District and would instead be used as parking and storage for the redevelopment.

He said taking the property through eminent domain is not a consideration and does not factor into the situation.

“The Welch Administration remains committed to evaluating the long-term future use of these parcels, aligning with the evolving progress of the redevelopment project and the city’s changing needs,” Corbett said.

Asked why the city hasn’t asked about acquiring the U-Haul, Corbett said that the city owns multiple properties spanning several acres downtown. “At this time, the Welch Administration has not prioritized acquiring additional property downtown.”

City Council member Gina Driscoll said she was surprised that there have been no conversations between the administration and the property owner.

“We should be working with them as a neighbor and stakeholder to ensure that the impacts of construction are minimized and that they, too, can benefit from this transformative project,” she said.

On renderings provided by the Rays and Hines, U-Haul is not part of the redevelopment footprint. It would keep operating next to what the developers have designated as “Gameday Street.” The Rays say they are OK with that.

“We’re focused on the master planning process for the 86 acres, and how that will all unfold,” said Rays co-president Matt Silverman. “We’re cognizant of making sure that it works with all of the neighboring and adjacent properties, but we haven’t had any specific conversations with them.”

Asked why the Rays haven’t reached out to the U-Haul, Silverman said, “Eighty-six acres is a very large canvas to work through. And that’s our focus right now as we work to finalize the agreements with the city. Once we have that done, we’ll be able to pay attention to other things, but we have a lot on our plates right now.”

Silverman said he doesn’t think it is fair to look at one or two individual properties when an entire downtown knits together with the development. “That’s one of the great privileges and challenges of this project is to make sure that the ballpark and the development fit into the surrounding area,” he said.

The U-Haul lot has long been an elusive pursuit for downtown developers.

In the 1990s, the city sought private developers to negotiate with U-Haul to build a 440-room hotel on its property as part of a $200 million downtown redevelopment project that didn’t happen. The deputy city manager for downtown redevelopment at the time, Rick Mussett, said the city had inquired about buying the U-Haul site on “several occasions.”

At the time, U-Haul official Jack McDonald said the land and building were for sale. The property was valued at $1.3 million for taxing purposes.

In 2013, Jabil Circuit eyed a new headquarters near Tropicana Field that also included the U-Haul land. St. Petersburg city officials hoped then that ownership of the land would change hands to make way for new development.

“As far as general development of that area, the U-Haul site is always under consideration,’’ a top city development official told the Times then. “If you are a businessman and sitting on a pot of gold and don’t need that property to do business, you might think about cashing out.’’