The St. Petersburg City Council is getting its first look at plans for community benefits agreements.
Council members have a lot of questions about what they are seeing.
Community benefit agreements create a process that takes into account the social and community impact of a real estate development plan. They’ve been used in other cities around the country for several years, and have risen to the forefront of discussion in St. Petersburg around the planned redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site, where a thriving Black community lost homes and businesses to make way for the ballpark.
The plan unveiled at a City Council committee meeting Thursday morning would implement community benefits agreements city-wide for certain projects, including the Trop redevelopment. Under the administration plan, the agreements would come into play for projects that are public-private partnerships with a construction value of $2 million or more, and for which the city would contribute at least $400,000 or 20 percent of the overall project cost.
Under the administration plan, developers would hold community meetings in the neighborhood impacted by their project to get residents’ input. A newly created Neighborhood Advisory Council also would review the project. The city and developer would then negotiate a community benefits agreement that could involve direct investment in the neighborhood, such as park improvements, or could be applied citywide, such as contributing to a fund for affordable housing. The City Council would have the final say on specific community benefits agreements.
“The major purpose of this is about equity. It’s about inclusion of a culture and environment that works on a daily basis to strengthen the city but for the past several years has not been included in its economic growth,” said Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders, who helped craft the proposal.
The work to formalize a community benefit agreement does not invent community benefits in St. Pete, said Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin.
“It’s been embedded in other agreements we’ve brought forward to the council for consideration during our time here, but quite frankly that’s a reflection of our will. There’s no requirement,” Tomalin said. “We believe there’s a need to formalize and hard wire that beyond the will of any one group that sits here at any time, and that it becomes embedded in the ethos of what it means to do business in the city.”
Council member Brandi Gabbard, who has been a vocal advocate for a community benefits agreement for the Trop redevelopment project, asked why the administration was proposing a city-wide plan.
“I guess we would pose the question of why not,” Tomalin said. “We see this as a step toward a long-term shift around equitable development and reinvestment in our city. We expect things to happen in our city that none of us have the wisdom to imagine. While it seems to make sense for Tropicana Field or downtown, we are planning for great growth in Carillon and Gateway. We are seeing it in the Skyway Marina District. We could have great growth in Tyrone.”
The proposal defines expectations and requirements for the city’s investment in private development, Tomalin said.
“We want to be very clear anywhere in our city that underscores how serious we are related to equity and reinvestments in our community beyond the opportunity a developer has identified, and invites the community to the table in a very meaningful way,” Tomalin said.
Council member Robert Blackmon said he was concerned the plan would put an “undue burden” on developers, and Council Chair Ed Montanari agreed. “It’s hard enough to get people to invest in certain parts of our city, and I’m concerned about putting a whole level of bureaucracy on top of that and also taxing it or creating fees and stifling development where we need it the most,” Montanari said.
Alan DeLisle, the city’s development administrator, said early input from developers has been positive. He cited the seven proposals received from companies that want to work on the Trop site. Those plans spell out community benefits, he said.
“Many of the developers get it. They know what it’s like to do business today and to do business in a city that values equity,” DeLisle said.
Council member Darden Rice, who chairs the Public Services and Infrastructure Committee, said a community benefits agreement is “the right thing to do,” but she was concerned that too few people in the community are aware of the plan. The PS&I committee voted to send the plan to a council budget committee for further review.