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Following more than five years of public engagement, visioning and master planning, more public engagement, studies, even more public engagement, and culminating in the creation of an ambitious and audacious Request for Proposals and the receipt of seven proposals to redevelop the Tropicana Field site, I narrowed the field of potential developers and development teams down to two outstanding development teams. This week, in order to conclude this particular step in the process, I narrowed it down to one: Alex Vadia and the team at Midtown Development.
I want to thank those who stood with me this week, including and especially Ms. Gwen Reese and the Rev. Watson Haynes. I am grateful for everyone who has added their voice to this extensive process. This has been a true community endeavor, and if done right, will continue to be a community endeavor for many, many years.
It’s really an illustration of what St. Pete is all about. We are a people-powered city, and this site, as evidenced by the 21 guiding principles that Midtown Development has committed to satisfying, will be powered by the people of St. Petersburg.
Now I chose this development company, Midtown Development, for many reasons. When I compared the two finalists, side by side, they had the best proposal and equally important, the resources to get this done.
But of greatest importance to me – they were undaunted by the guiding principles. They understand the collaborative nature of this partnership with our citizens, with the City of St. Petersburg, and perhaps with the Tampa Bay Rays. They understand the need to honor this site’s history and provide real opportunities.
There’s a reason the President of the Pinellas County Urban League, Watson Haynes, stood with me. Watson grew up in the Gas Plant neighborhood.
You know how we say privileged people are born on third base? Well, Watson wasn’t born into privilege, but he literally grew up where third base is inside that dome.
He knows the history there. He knows where we’ve been, and he knows where we need to go.
Much like the vision statement we crafted eight years ago states, “we will honor our past while we pursue our future.”
That future includes a development that provides jobs, mixed-income housing, office space, entertainment, and an emphasis on the creek, the natural environment and the Pinellas Trail.
Alex and Midtown Development understand this. They understand that public space cannot be an afterthought. They understand our Grow Smarter economic development strategy, the business sectors we’ve targeted, and the need for this site to be a model of sustainability, resilience and health.
They understand, and this is the most important one, that the site must connect to South St. Pete. And that connection must be physical, emotional and economical.
We are a city focused on removing barriers and tearing down walls, the invisible ones that limit some residents’ opportunities and the literal ones like the one that stands between places like Campbell Park and the transformation that will unfold on the other side of the interstate.
Both barriers block our fabled sunshine on too many and have for too long.
We have done much these past eight years to achieve that goal to create a more equitable St. Pete. But there remains much work to do.
And that means moving forward with the process to redevelop the Tropicana Field site, with or without a baseball stadium.
The Tampa Bay Rays will help solve that outstanding question.
As for Alex Vadia, he built an entire neighborhood in Miami; an inclusive, active neighborhood with a real sense of place. Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin, City Development Administrator Alan DeLisle and I saw the Midtown Miami project up close and it is impressive.
Alex is different from many developers I’ve met. He’s passionate about this project and the future of St. Pete. And that passion will shine through as this site comes together.
In closing, I am fully aware of the time I have left in office, but it was important that I make this decision, not in the heat of a mayoral contest where it could be unnecessarily politicized, but when all the facts were in – including learning who the next mayor would be.
I am comforted by the conversations I’ve had with Mayor-elect Welch. He gets it. He knows we can’t start this process over.
I think we all recognize that this is a generational project. It will transcend administrations. I may be the first mayor to hand this off, but I won’t be the last. And I trust that City Hall, the next mayor, future mayors, and future council members, working in partnership with the community and Midtown Development, will continue to move this process forward.
Remember, this is not a mayoral project, this is a St. Pete project. It’s the biggest and most important one yet.
Rick Kriseman is the Mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida.