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Council member’s attempt for city to entertain Trop redevelopment proposals fails

Veronica Brezina

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Renderings of the reinvented Tropicana Filed site renderings from Midtown (left) and Sugar Hill (right). Coty of St. Petersburg documents.

St. Pete city council members were divided on hearing from developers about the two proposed redevelopment plans for the Tropicana Field site.

During Thursday’s council meeting, Lisa Wheeler-Bowman offered a resolution for the two developer finalists to present their plans to a committee of the whole in an effort for the council to have skin in the game of determining which redevelopment plan they favor – however, the attempt ultimately failed.

“We are missing our opportunity to give administration input and we’ve complained for years of wanting to give input, and we wasted that opportunity away when we debated this particular topic,” council member Amy Foster said.

Foster, alongside Wheeler-Bowman and council member Deborah Figgs supported the resolution to hear from the developers while council members Ed Montanari, Robert Blackmon, Darden Rice, Brandi Gabbard and Gina Driscoll voted against it.

One of the significant underlying issues was that the council previously approved a resolution in April to support the city of St. Petersburg to work with the Rays on keeping them rooted in St. Pete before pursuing redevelopment opportunities of the site.

“I don’t want to rehash this again tonight … To my understanding, there has not been a discussion between the mayor and the Rays after we asked him to start talking with them, and there’s no legal reason why he wouldn’t be able to do so,” Driscoll said, stating St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman needs to “give the Rays a call and work it out.”

Deputy Mayor and City Administrator Kanika Tomalin later clarified that it was inaccurate to suggest the mayor is unwilling to negotiate with the Rays.  She said Kriseman was advised by the city’s legal department not to talk with Rays owner Stu Sternberg. However, as of Thursday, the legal department changed its decision and gave Kriseman the go-ahead to talk with Sternberg.

Gabbard, who also opposed the resolution, said there’s no harm with putting the redevelopment discussions on ice.

“We need to be getting to the bottom of what’s going to happen with the Rays [when their lease expires in 2027]. I don’t believe doing this keeps us from not working with these two developers,” Gabbard said.

Meanwhile, Rice shared her conflicting thoughts on the topic.

“We don’t want to delay things unnecessarily, but we want to get this right before we can go much further down the road,” she said. “We are married to the Rays until the end of 2027. They have 50% of development rights of anything we do until then.”

She gave an example of potential scenarios if the city council were to start working with the developers.

In one scenario with moving ahead, there may be some type of lawsuit. Or, the city rushes to select a final developer and begins construction at the site at that point, “we are making a billionaire even richer” as the Rays have that 50% stake in development rights.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me … [but] the Rays have to tell us what they want,” she said. “We are running out of time.”

Although Wheeler-Bowman reiterated how the resolution was to merely consider the two redevelopment plans and not formally enter a contract agreement, the majority of council members rejected the motion to have any involvement.

“Sometimes I wonder if administration heard us by some of your actions that you took. The resolution we passed unanimously [in April] was extremely clear about this as a generational project … It took 20 years to attract a major league baseball team; we want to keep them here,” Montanari said.

“This is not political for me. I am trying to make sure each of our districts that we represent are heard,” Wheeler-Bowman said.

“You just made a statement of how long we’ve had baseball in our city. Well, how long did it take to displace all those Black families who lived there with no resolution?” Wheeler-Bowman said, regarding how the development of the Trop initially displaced the Black community before the board tallied the final vote.

Catalyst staff writer Margie Manning contributed to this report.

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    Rose Hayes

    June 15, 2021at6:19 pm

    Kudos to Mrs. Wheeler Bowman.!!!!

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