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Is the Gas Plant redevelopment’s benefits package enough?

Mark Parker

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After six meetings, including a five-hour finale, a committee decided that community benefits provided by redeveloping 65 acres of prime St. Petersburg real estate warranted the associated public subsidies.

A nine-person Community Benefits Advisory Council debated the Historic Gas Plant District project’s benefits package – and several proposed revisions – until 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. The group, encompassing eight appointees and City Council Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders, approved the proposal in a 7-2 vote.

The $6.5 billion redevelopment, led by the Tampa Bay Rays and Hines, would transform the area surrounding Tropicana Field into a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood. Opponents believe the potential public impacts do not justify selling the land at a deep discount.

City officials hope to fulfill broken promises to a once-thriving Black community displaced from the area. “I look at the bigger picture of what it is we’re trying to,” Figgs-Sanders said. “Do I agree with all of it? Absolutely not. We’re not going to get everything we want.”

The advisory council voted to increase penalties from $25,000 to $150,000 if the development team fails to meet offsite affordable and workforce housing requirements. That rises to $175,000 for onsite units.

They want the cost to increase with inflation and the city to build affordable housing on any developable parcels not utilized by the Rays/Hines. However, the penalty remains far below the estimated $400,000 per unit construction cost.

The council also wants the first 300 affordable housing units built by 2028 rather than 2030. “Just the optics of that – to say that we’re going to focus on the stadium before affordable housing seems really problematic for me,” said standing member Jason Mathis.

He also suggested adjusting the Rays’ $50 million benefits package according to inflation. “That could be $31 million by the time the project is done,” Mathis added.

Brooks Wallington motioned to create a $5 million emergency rental assistance fund. He said that provides immediate assistance while the development is under construction.

“I think it’s disingenuous to say that we’re just putting a Band-Aid on something,” Wallington said in response to a colleague. “Affordable housing – the need for it is there, but we can’t magically create it overnight.”

Previously approved requests include disadvantaged workers and apprentices completing 15% of all construction hours, requiring contractors and subcontractors to pay a “responsible wage” and mandating that the entire development meets Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

The $6.5 billion mixed-use district’s site plan, anchored by a new ballpark (dark blue). The publicly owned stadium was not a part of the community benefits process. Image: Screengrab, provided documents.

The advisory council’s revisions are nonbinding. However, Brian Caper, economic and workforce development director, said the mayoral administration takes the votes “very seriously.”

He said administrators would present recommendations to the development team as part of an iterative negotiation process. Caper also noted that Rays/Hines officials have previously stated that a “significant financial increase in any one aspect” would have repercussions.

“Maybe that is a certain aspect of the development doesn’t get built, or they ask to renegotiate that land price,” Caper said. “There would be something else that inevitably they would bring to the table to offset that increase in the affordable housing expense.”

The committee’s recommendations will also inform city council members, who will ultimately vote on legally binding contracts. Officials expect that to occur in April to meet previously established construction timelines.

The $50 million benefits package proposed by the developers includes $15 million for city-led affordable housing initiatives, $10.5 million in small business assistance, $6.25 million for workforce development, $10 million to build a new Woodson African American Museum of Florida and $7.5 million for educational purposes.

In addition, Caper said the Rays/Hines would commit $3.75 million to support supplier diversity, job training and entrepreneurship programs. He noted that many of the project’s 14,000 parking spaces would be open to the public.

Caper said the redevelopment would also create new transit options. Those include new SunRunner stops on 1st Avenue South and new bike lanes along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, 13th Street and 16th Street.

The developers will dedicate 16 acres, or 26% of the site, to public greenspace. Caper said they will prioritize partnerships with onsite childcare and early education providers.

He reminded the council that city officials will contribute $130 million to infrastructure upgrades estimated at roughly $200 million. Rays and Hines are responsible for additional costs.

A new Rays ballpark was exempt from the community benefits process as Pinellas County government would own the land. Mathis noted the advisory council still repeatedly broached the topic.

“We’ll always want more,” Mathis added. “I’m going to vote ‘yes,’ but I would have voted ‘no’ if we hadn’t made the amendments … to strengthen this and ensure compliance moving forward.”

 

 

 

 

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Oscar Edwards

    February 10, 2024at12:28 pm

    I’ve seen several articles saying part of I 175 would be taken out. Ignorance is bliss. That will force traffic to use I 375 which is going to add to traffic downtown not to mention eliminating a vital hurricane evacuation route
    Q

  2. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    February 9, 2024at1:19 pm

    I’ve done more multi-million dollar public-private partnership deals during my almost 40 year career than I can count. I have never, never seen a deal this bad for a city. No wonder the Rays want this deal done tomorrow. I trust St Pete is waking up and comparing other similar deals done in the past and realizing how out of line this deal is. Be strong St Pete, dig deep.

  3. Robin Davidov

    Robin Davidov

    February 9, 2024at11:39 am

    The $50 million intentional equity amount was deducted from the land sale price and is thus the taxpayer’s money. Thank you to the CBAC members who unanimously approved an inflation adjustment so that the Rays will have to give the City back the entire $50 million and not just $31 million. Also, thanks to the CBAC for unanimously voting to raise the “buy out” of affordable housing penalty. There is no justification for selling our land at $300-$400 million below market value, giving the Rays a 22 acre stadium site rent free/property tax free and getting no revenues from the Rays in return. And if the new stadium is not full every game (there is no guarantee from the Rays) there will be no benefit to local businesses. Meanwhile the Rays earn millions from fans watching from home while our City receives no revenues. Economists warn that siphoning $700 million of City and County property taxes from downtown and intown properties to pay for a stadium will result in higher taxes (or less services) for everyone in St. Petersburg. After the City took 9 months to negotiate this deal, our City Council will have a few weeks to review many complicated documents. Rushing our City Council Council is unacceptable. It’s time for taxpayers to Cry Foul!

  4. Avatar

    MelvinJunior

    February 9, 2024at11:34 am

    You are not getting ‘everything’ YOU want. No one is. It is not possible. Nor, is it even reasonable to think as such. It’s just not how these things work. And, it’s NEVER going to be perfect. The bottom-line being, do you want the Rays to be HERE for the next 30+years, or NOT!? Do you want St. Pete to be recognized as a ‘legit’ city with an identity on a national level, & t“world class” facilities to continue attracting and hosting MAJOR events for many decades to come!? If so, then you just cannot afford to LOSE your (one and only) major sports franchise… There are only so many of those to go around period, & for cities (especially ’the size’ of St. Pete), they are VERY hard and rare to come by. If you lose-it, you are NOT getting it back. Just think how long and hard it took to even get the Rays here, in the first place… And, then how long we’ve been negotiating THIS particular deal here, for about the past 15-YEARS!!!! The time to finally move-on is NOW, and not to continue bickering over this and that. You/we’ve had plenty of ‘time’ by now, and time, has ran-out. Also, I will guarantee you that there is noooo waaaayyy, that “75-25” (on a vote) would vote AGAINST building this stadium and surrounding development, and then for the Rays to go ‘kick rocks’ and leave… I don’t know what kind of ‘bubble’ you’re associating with, because I encounter VERY few people who would agree with YOU on that.

  5. Avatar

    Karyn Mueller, PE

    February 9, 2024at10:01 am

    The Gas Plant District Redevelopment has been presented to the public as a restorative justice project, with St Pete Catalyst quoting Ken Welch in a 1/11/22 article “Welch to revisit plans to redevelop Tropicana Field with focus on affordable housing” saying “I want to see more in terms of truly affordable housing. I think we can set the bar higher”. The Rays/Hines proposal has LESS affordable housing than other proposals. Now proponents of this project say it was never about affordable housing.

    The administration needs to come clean with what this project really is, which is a $700 million public subsidy for a new stadium paid for out of the Intown CRA TIF Funds (property taxes) and a transfer of public land to a private corporation in exchange for Class A office construction, the Booker Hall performing arts center, and $10 million toward the African American museum. There will be no convention center, rather just conference space in a hotel. (Brian Auld told a member of the League of Women Voters they didn’t plan to build Booker Hall and that they didn’t have to build anything).
    THIS IS NOT A DONE DEAL! Both the County and City need to vote on it. The Rays would like you to think it is a done deal so that the public doesn’t look into how many problems there are as it stands and then push back.

    The land the African American museum will be located on will no longer be publicly owned so the project needs to better explain how the remaining approximately $60 million for the cost of building the museum will be obtained. How can a museum get a loan for a building that isn’t on public land, but located on privately owned land that is leased to them? The Rays say they will help with fundraising but it needs to be better defined or it won’t get built.

    The City needs to slow down the process and get performance guarantees from Rays/Hines as well as penalties if they don’t fulfill their promises. Right now these are non-existent, and the deal is unbalanced and too favorable to Rays/Hines with no protections for the City residents. (See the development terms in the agenda for the Committee of the Whole meeting on 10/26/23.) Contact City Council and tell them to slow down. The final draft of the terms will be presented to Council within weeks and they will only have two weeks to review it. As is, the terms are vague and unenforceable. The City is getting bulldozed by 2 billionaire corporations.

    The Rays priorities only benefit them, not the public as they won’t build affordable housing until after the stadium is built. This deal is being rushed through so that the Rays can have a new baseball stadium in 2028. The public shouldn’t sacrifice their interests because the Rays don’t want to play ball in their existing stadium. It is a detriment to the public to ram this deal through without improving it. Tell City Council to slow down and make the deal better for the residents.

    In regard to property taxes being used for a baseball stadium, the Intown CRA was established in 1986 to revitalize an economically depressed downtown. The CRA shouldn’t be allowed to be extended when it expires in 2032 so that 50% of the property taxes from this CRA go to a baseball stadium (for 30 years). The taxes siphoned off will have to be made up by the taxpayers. Higher property taxes mean less affordability in housing as it increases both home ownership and rental housing costs. If you use the property tax estimator on Pinellas County assessor website, you will see taxes for a 2 bedroom house in Kenwood are $11,000/year. We do not need to increase property taxes even further! Renters pay these high taxes as part of their rent. New residents pay the highest tax since existing homeowners have homestead property tax caps.

    Property taxes should go to our urgently needed stormwater infrastructure projects first and if we want to address equity, pay City employees higher wages as we are well under national averages. Many multi-generational residents work at the City and this would be a direct way to increase wages and housing affordability. Look to the successful program Gina Driscoll supported with bonuses to city employees to help with housing. That’s a much more effective way to economically benefit our local residents. See the 6/10/22 Catalyst article “St. Pete moves forward with employee rental assistance”

    I’ve never seen a proposal this unfavorable to the public in my 20 years of working as a Professional Engineer at public agencies including the City of Miami, the City of Seattle and the National Park Service. I’m all for developing the property to its highest and best use but we are squandering our opportunity to do it the right way if we proceed with this deal as it stands. The property tax revenues will be deferred as Michael Harrison confirmed in the 10/26/23 COW meeting that Hines wouldn’t pay property taxes until individual buildings are put into service (with no timeline as to when that happens with much of the land). A lot of the land could sit idle while it appreciates and then be sold for a profit at a later date.

  6. Avatar

    Ron Diner

    February 9, 2024at7:01 am

    Is the Gas Plants redevelopment’s benefits package enough? No! If the Rays/Hines proposed deal was a fair deal to St.Petersburg, the city would have $1.6 billion not $50 million to fulfill its promises, and do so much more. See my blog on nohomerun.com.

  7. Avatar

    JAMES GILLESPIE

    February 8, 2024at9:59 pm

    THERE IS A REAL UNDERCURRENT OF DISTRUST IN THE DEAL, THE RAYS, THE CITY AND THE PRIORITIES. THESE SHOULD BE RESPNDED TO AND PUT TO REST TO EXPAND SUPPORT. THE AFFECTED PEOPLE OR BENEFICIARIES NEED CERTAINTY AND THE CITY NEEDS THE TIGHTEST AGREEMENT FEASIBLE TO BENEFIT THE CITY AND THOSE WHO WILL OBTAIN HOUSING AND PERHAPS EMPLOYMENT. A DEL AND ELATIONSHIPS LOOK GOOD AND BUILD TRUST WITH MAXIMUM TRANSPARENCY. IS THAT PRESENT?

  8. Avatar

    LT

    February 8, 2024at10:37 am

    Well said, Alan.
    Keep in mind, this “affordable housing” is just one component of the proposal and it’s rushed, heavily biased to the developers, and riddled with issues. The same can absolutely be said for every piece of this absurd swindle.
    City officials need to get an earful from EVERYONE to reject this plan completely.

  9. Dick Pierce

    Dick Pierce

    February 7, 2024at10:47 pm

    Please stay tuned…….dittos to the 2 comments above. For now, just the title of a coming pierce:

    “The Pillar Crumbles….”
    …Look closely, it has changed:
    -From: “[Affordale] Housing Opportunity for All [Who need it and, first, to Who need it most].”
    -To: ” Housing Opportunity for All [Who can Afford it].”
    Stay tuned for: Affordable Housing,…Who needs it most, and least,…and Who gets it in this Plan.

    Thanks,
    Dick Pierce, dickpiercedesigns@gmail.com

  10. Avatar

    Tony

    February 7, 2024at8:33 pm

    This will be the worst decision in the city’s history if it goes through. So many other options to maximize the value of the land and therefore the return on investment to the taxpayers. If there was a vote by the public on this tomorrow it would fail 75 to 25 and the city council is ignoring that.

  11. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    February 7, 2024at6:23 pm

    This deal is absurd!
    Send the Rays and Ken Welch to Canada!

  12. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    February 7, 2024at4:53 pm

    This is a sad situation for St Pete. The Rays own this Committee except for a few. Here are the facts:

    The city is spending $1.6 billion to get $50 million in benefits. But this is not even true because the land value the Rays are paying has been reduced by $124 million using the current appraisal, which is absurd. A new appraisal is badly needed.

    The amount of infrastructure should be split 50-50. The price of the land should only be reduced by the affordable housing subsidy not ridiculous items such as greenspace, infrastructure that will never be spent, and intentional equity (embarrassing). The Rays need to pay for the Stadium land or it should be subtracted from the city’s subsidy. The city should keep the rights to Naming Rights. The Rays need to start the private development (at least a million square feet) at the same time as the stadium.

    This will save and generate about $300-$400 million in savings/revenue to the city and begin to make some sense to this sad deal for the residents of St Pete.

    All the important details of this deal have been left as blanks in the Term Sheet — an affront to all taxpayers. When the development agreement finally surfaces, demand at least three months to review how these blanks have been handled. I can assure you they will all be in the Rays favor. Stay strong St Pete and look for the rare leaders who have courage to tell the truth. Most of the Not-For-Profits in St Pete are bought and paid for by the Rays.

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