Despite fierce opposition from a nearby neighborhood association, St. Petersburg City Council voted unanimously — with Darden Rice absent and Robert Blackmon recused — on Thursday to advance to second reading a proposal to build a 150,000-square-foot sports complex with a lagoon-style pool on a vacant 29-acre parcel adjacent to Azalea Park on the city’s west side.
Located at 1501 72nd St. N., directly southwest of Tyrone Square Mall, the project would require the land to be rezoned from industrial suburban to commercial corridor suburban. Porter Development, the Clearwater company that filed a redevelopment plan for the site, said the site would also have housing and retail/restaurant components, bringing jobs and much-needed activation to a long-dormant property.
“What we are trying to deliver here can be transformational for St. Pete and Pinellas County,” Porter Development President Les Porter told city council members during Thursday’s meeting. “We’re excited about bringing a world-class sports facility that will drive tourism dollars to our area, and give people another reason to come visit St. Pete and enjoy all that we have to offer.”
In addition to the zoning change, the project would also modify the land use from industrial limited to planned redevelopment mixed-use. However, significant environmental issues complicate the plan. Defense and aerospace firm Raytheon Co. acquired the land in 1995 and subsequently detected that polluted groundwater was affecting adjacent neighborhoods to the south and southwest. Raytheon then built a water treatment facility at 7167 13th Ave. N. and unsuccessfully attempted to sell the property for many years until it was acquired in 2015 by St. Pete’s LLC, the current owner.
The Crossroads Area Homeowners Association cites the toxicity of the parcel as just one of its objections to the project. The group’s president, Jim Schattman, addressed city council members at Thursday’s meeting, saying the proposed development would bring disruptive levels of traffic and noise to the neighborhood.
“It’s utterly lacking realistic traffic planning in regard to access to and from the 29.1-acre property,” Schattman said, adding that the plan offers “complete disregard for safety and security.” He criticized Porter Development for pitching the sports complex as a family-friendly venue while also providing for the establishment of numerous businesses in the development that would serve alcohol. “It’s hard to believe that the police will not be overtaxed by the movement of thousands of people, by car and on foot, attending the sports complex and water park/lagoon.”
Schattman and other critics also pointed out that e-commerce giant Amazon has expressed interest in acquiring the land and building a distribution center on it — a development that would bring hundreds of good-paying jobs to the area and be more in line with the site’s current zoning and use plan.
While most residents who spoke at Thursday’s meeting were opposed to the project, some voiced their support. Dr. Ed Carlson, president of the Jungle Terrace Civic Association, praised Porter — whose company developed the nearby Shoppes at the Royale on 66th Street — as a “person of integrity and character” who “has worked well with us through the years.” Carlson said Porter’s plan would be much preferable to Amazon’s, which would bring “trucks in and out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, [lit] up like an airport through the night.”
With the proposal passing its first reading and public hearing, it will now be reviewed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.