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This is the third in a series about the Tropicana Field site by members of ASPEC – the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College.
What does I-175 have to do with any proposed redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site?
To answer this question, let’s take a look at the existing neighborhood there prior to 1977, the start of construction of the spur highway. To the south of I-175 is, and was, Campbell Park, purchased by the city in 1943 to use as a park for African-American people during the Jim Crow era of enforced segregation. North of Campbell Park was the Gas Plant neighborhood, so named because of two huge natural gas storage cylinders located within its boundaries: 1st to 5th avenues South between MLK and 16th Street. The area immediately adjacent to Campbell Park on the north prior to the construction of I-175 was called Sugar Hill, home to many African-American doctors, educators, and other professionals.
When completed in 1980, I-175 severed the Gas Plant neighborhood to the north from the park created for African-Americans to the south. Sugar Hill was paved over as well.
Six years after the opening of I-175, the remaining poorer sections of the Gas Plant neighborhood were bulldozed to build the Florida Suncoast Dome in an effort to entice Major League Baseball to St. Petersburg. The Dome was completed in 1990 and in 1996 was renamed Tropicana Field after MLB expanded to the area. Eighteen years after the completion of I-175 and the subsequent destruction of the Gas Plant neighborhood, the first regular-season baseball game was played at the Trop.
Now, in 2021, the city of St. Petersburg is asking for comments on the four finalists for the proposed redevelopment of Tropicana Field and its acres of asphalt. Perhaps one of those four contenders will emerge as a favorite. Or a “do nothing” or “wait and see” approach will emerge as the consensus about what to do with such a vast—and critical—urban redevelopment project.
But one project could go forward immediately: the demolition of I-175 and the restoration of connectivity to the community.
John Avery has been an Associate member of ASPEC, the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College, for two years. He holds a B.A. from Florida State University (English), and is currently a licensed real estate agent in Florida, as well as a published poet and member of the Gulfport Historical Society. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer only. No endorsement of these opinions by ASPEC or Eckerd College is either expressed or implied.