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Bay area political leaders discuss the Rays and more

Veronica Brezina

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St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch (left), Nicole Travis, Tampa's administrator of economic development (center), and Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard speak at CREW's 2022 Economic Summit in downtown Tampa. Photo: Veronica Brezina

The race to have the Tampa Bay Rays stay in St. Pete and the worsening affordable housing crisis were the discussion topics at the forefront during the CREW Tampa Bay 2022 Economic Summit event Wednesday in Tampa. 

This year’s speakers included St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, Nicole Travis, economic development administrator for the City of Tampa, and Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, inside the Hilton Tampa Downtown hotel. 

The discussion panel was moderated by WFLA anchor Stacie Schaible.

These were some of the hot topics the two mayors and the economic development leader touched on during the event. The quotes have been edited for clarity: 

Highlights from Ken Welch

Welch on the Tampa Bay Rays: “I’m a huge Rays fan, and I have a personal connection to the Gas Plant. My grandfather’s business and his church were there. That community has been uprooted twice with the promise made to the community that a baseball stadium would bring jobs and economic development. It’s 86 acres of asphalt. We have an opportunity to fulfill those promises. The Rays are important, but they are secondary to that. Having said that, absolutely the Rays need to stay here. I was just in Reno, Nevada, with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. She’s going to do everything she can to get them to come to Tampa. We’ve [City of St. Peterbsurg] made a lot of progress with the Rays and meet on a regular basis, and we have concentrated on our relationship with the county because our bed taxes would fund a new ballpark. The other issue is the master developer for Tropicana Field will have to work together with the Rays. I went to Sacramento to see what the Sugar Hill Partners and JMA team has done, and I also went to Midtown’s development [in Miami]. We will move forward with a resolution, this can’t drag out for another two years.” 

Welch on affordable housing: “The question used to be ‘Would St. Pete be a place my children would come back to?’ Now the question is, ‘Is it a place they can afford to come back to?’ The prices of homes have escalated. The property appraiser said the prices have increased by 14% citywide and 20% in South St. Pete. My mom still lives in South St. Pete and her neighbor sold her home for $500,000. We are intentionally building affordable workforce housing. The Penny For Pinellas fund allocated $82.5 million for housing. We are trying to leverage infrastructure dollars and transfer money into housing [funds].”

Highlights from Nicole Travis 

Travis on jobs and housing in Tampa: “There are 330,000 jobs in Tampa and we project there will be 260,000 more jobs in the next 20 years. It’s not just based on population, but there’s an explosion of jobs that are tech-based. So how do you balance the needs of a growing company and housing? We can’t approach it in one way and subsidize housing. We have to look at our policies that hinder or help housing efforts, and how we are improving transit-oriented development to help move people throughout the community.”

Travis on tourism: “The Tampa Convention Center saw over 300,000 people this year, which is 100,000 more than the prior year. We are a Tier 2 city for conventions and we’re seeing people who go to the Tier 1 convention center cities like Chicago want to go to a destination where there’s a higher quality of life.”

Highlights from Frank Hibbard

Hibbard on affordable housing: “We’ve talked about affordable housing. There was a 77-acre site called Landings Golf Club. We did a referendum in November 2020 and we should’ve waited [voters rejected a referendum to lease most of the Landings Golf Club for a developer to build a light industrial complex]. We didn’t go out and talk with people about the jobs it would bring. We need to create more jobs where people live rather than focus on transportation. We need to work together on homeless literacy, and education and with the state and county on affordable housing. We have three projects that halted because of construction costs and don’t have the tax mechanisms to cap the tax.”

Hibbard on Imagine Clearwater: “We are revamping Coachman Park, 22 acres of land, and we are spending $84 million. The 4,000-seat amphitheater will be covered and we moved it to the corner of the property so it doesn’t bisect the playground and other amenities. We selected a management company for the amphitheater. Tomorrow, we are expecting responses from developers to acquire bluff parcels owned by the city and those will go on a referendum.”

Hibbard on the next project: “We are going to start an incubator. It’s one of the next projects I’m going to do before I am out of the office – I will not be running again.” 

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