Inside baseball: Talking Trop with Midtown Development

Midtown Development is no stranger to transforming a brown site into a connected neighborhood, as it has done so in Miami and plans to replicate a similar fashion in St. Petersburg. 

Midtown Development and Sugar Hill Community Partners are the two finalists vying to be tapped by St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch to redevelop the 86-acre Tropicana Field site, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

“It’s very important to note that we do not chase RFPs [request for proposals]. Over the past 10 years, we’ve wanted to find an opportunity in St. Pete that would allow us to create something large enough in scale to make a difference,” Midtown Development Partner Alex Vadia told the St. Pete Catalyst during a virtual interview this week. 

Midtown’s $2 billion, 56-acre mixed-use Midtown Miami project. All images provided by Midtown Development.

Former Mayor Rick Kriseman selected Midtown Development before exiting office; however, he said the final decision would ultimately be in Welch’s hands. Welch is expected to make his decision by June 30 for the site.

While both teams are proposing to introduce a spectrum of office buildings, residential homes, vibrant landscaping and create a web of complete streets throughout the site, Midtown said what sets its proposal apart is the upfront $10 million payment to the city, which can immediately be used to build affordable housing, provide down payment assistance, subsidize rents or invest in other programs that the mayor believes will best address the housing issue.

“On Day 1, we will give the city a $10 million deposit, which will put us at risk. For any reason, if we aren’t able to deliver what we said we would – whether the numbers don’t work or because Covid has caused construction prices to be too high – the city still keeps that $10 million and they could spend it any way they’d like to,” Vadia said. “What is also important is we are not looking for the city or taxpayers, third parties to be the investor. It is all on us.” 

By the numbers: A highlight of Midtown’s proposal

  • Midtown’s proposal states it will build 6,000 to 8,000 residential units. The company said 20% would be dedicated to affordable/workforce housing with no less than 1,000 units. If the project creates 8,000 new units, 800 units would be affordable housing and 800 units would be workforce housing.
  • Midtown would build 3.3 million to 3.95 million square feet of outdoor and indoor space. Midtown will develop 200,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor office space in Phase 1. 
  • The group noted it is working with internationally known architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the firm that designed offices for Pixar, Twitter, Adobe and the Apple Fifth Avenue store in New York. It would act as the lead architect during Phase 1, which entails developing 50,000 square feet of office space and ultimately up to 200,000 square feet.
  • Midtown’s original plan proposes space for a stadium near its current site, between Booker Creek and 16th Street, if the Rays were to stay in St. Pete. If the ballpark did not exist, there would be over 25.5 acres of green space.
  • Midtown has allocated $500,000 to facilitate the conversation about the potential removal of the Interstate I-75 ramp
  •  The city has earmarked $75 million in tax-increment funding for infrastructure for the selected developer. 

Planting a vision 

“St. Pete is a very walkable city. Given our track record, we’ve had a lot of success. At the ground level, we will create an experience for everyone to feel comfortable and not have only high-end restaurants and retail to pick from,” he said, describing how there are multiple factors when developing any mixed-use development that makes it highly successful such as a dog park, a unique coffee shop, and a unique area for kids and a marketplace.

“We’ve been working on creating an amazing green, lush, energized space along Booker Creek, including banyan village where we will be planting mature banyan trees, and the village will be sprinkled with local art all around,” he said. 

A rendering of Midtown Development’s Creekside Banyan Village.  

The Creekside Banyan Village will feature micro-retail, and the art will utilize recycled materials.

On the housing component, Vadia said there will be a mix of residential products and not a sole emphasis on market rate or low-income housing; however, Midtown will earmark $5 million to kickstart the affordable and workforce housing component rather than having to wait for subsidies. 

“The major thing is this can’t be low-income-only development. The Gas Plant wasn’t only low-income, it had a mixed community with a middle class, where teachers and others lived there,” Watson Haynes, President and CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League, said during the call. 

Vadia said Midtown is working with the Urban League to help identify businesses for the office and retail component, including the 200,000-square-foot spec office tower, to fuel more energy and activation during the day at the Trop site rather than just on the weekend. 

Although the final decision on the master developer awaits as Welch has traveled to see developments built both by Sugar Hill and Midtown, Vadia remains very confident in his team’s vision.  

“It all comes down to having skin the game, we are the ones taking the risk, and we have the track record of taking something complex and simplifying it,” Vadia said about the mayor’s pending decision. “We will always continue to be big believers of St. Pete.” 

ADDITIONAL READING: Inside baseball: Talking Trop with Sugar Hill

Veronica Brezina

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