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Prospective Tropicana Field developers refine plans for the 86-acre site

Veronica Brezina

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Tropicana Field. Google Earth.

The two prospective Tropicana Field master developers have tweaked their plans on how they vision the redevelopment of the prime 86-acre downtown property. 

This month, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch submitted 15 additional questions to the Miami-based Midtown Development team and Sugar Hill Community Partners group. The new questions focus on hot topics ranging from affordable housing, equity and the future of the Tampa Bay Rays to the potential impact on the interstate system. 

“The Trop site represents our most valuable and storied development opportunity in generations,” Welch said on the steps of City Hall earlier this week. “As you know, I was a child of the Gas Plant community, and this is not only a vital decision for the future of our city but is also a unique opportunity to finally fulfill the promises of equitable development made to the Gas Plant community.” 

Welch explained he also wanted to re-evaluate the proposals as the Covid-19 pandemic and supply chain issues could have altered plans.  

In records obtained by the St. Pete Catalyst, both groups submitted 50-plus page responses to the questions. The prospective developers retained the basis of their original plans, but have reworked some factors and reiterated high points. 

A look back at the original plans 

Midtown’s original pitch calls for new office space, a mix of tiered affordable housing options, a hotel, retail development, an expanded Booker Creek and designated areas for artists. The initial plan totaled an investment ranging from $2.7 to $3.8 billion.

The proposal included a mix of housing, a 500-room hotel and 50,000 square feet of convention space,  and 36 acres of “public realm” space among other elements. 

Under Midtown’s proposal, the city’s public improvement contribution would not exceed $75 million. Midtown would make a $60 million payment to the city, and also would be responsible for more than $94 million in public improvements.

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman selected Midtown Development as his choice as a master developer for the site. 

More on Midtown’s initial plans can be found here

Sugar Hill Community Partners, a development team headed by San Francisco-based developer JMA Ventures and the Machete Group, had a $3.1 billion plan, which included $836.8 million in public funding, the group planned to build a hotel with more than 400 rooms, and a 1 million-square-foot convention center, which is an asset that St. Pete doesn’t have, and add green space and housing.

More on Sugar Hill’s initial plans can be found here. 

Highlights of the revised visions

A rendering of Sugar Hill Commons without a ballpark.

Sugar Hill 

  • On affordable housing: The team has increased the number of affordable and workforce units by 1,416 (for a total of 2,401 units) in its Sugar Hill Parks scheme (with a Rays ballpark) and 1,550 (for a total of 3,165 units) in the Sugar Hill Commons scheme (without a Rays ballpark). It would also create a Community Equity Endowment that would collect $30 million over the first 20 years and would be used to fund the construction of affordable single-family homes outside of the Trop site, and provide grants. 
  • On the convention center: Based on several Covid-related factors, the team has adjusted the meeting venue program from a two-phase, 1.2-million-square-foot convention center to a 150,000-square-foot facility and a 500-key hotel. “We believe that this size facility will be successful regardless of broader meeting market trends that may emerge or persist. While the radius and size of the broader economic impact of this facility will be more limited than a convention center, it will still deliver significant economic benefits to the community. More importantly, this size venue can be privately financed so, unlike a convention center, no direct public investment will be required,” the team wrote. 
  • On the influence of disparity study findings: The team has committed to a 20% MBE goal across each phase of the project (design, construction and operations). There will also be a comprehensive mentoring program. As outlined in its original submission, it will build a workforce development program including a $2 million investment in a vocational skills academy. Sugar Hill will also fund a $5 million renovation at the outset of the Trop development process and will donate $1 million to the African-American History Museum.  
  • On honoring the Gas Plant neighborhood: One action the team will take is creating The History Walk, a diagonal pedestrian artery connecting downtown St. Petersburg to South St. Petersburg. The self-guided outdoor history museum will feature elements such as public art, statues and plaques. Sugar Hill will partner with the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance to award commissions to African-American artists, and narrative content will be developed with community stakeholder groups led by the African-American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg and the Carter G. Woodson Museum.
  • Statement on the Rays: “We have met formally with the Rays to discuss the Trop and the team’s vision for the site. We believe that we can be a highly effective partner to the Rays and the city as discussions progress and, if selected, look forward to working collaboratively with both parties to arrive at a development approach that meets the needs of all parties.” 
  • On the interstate: “Today, the Tropicana Field site and highway I-75 stand as literal and emotional barriers between the predominantly African-American neighborhoods to the south and largely white neighborhoods to the north,” the team wrote. If the interstate connection is demolished, Sugar Hill would reestablish strong connections to the street grid south of I-175 and has prepared a preliminary study of how those links can be further strengthened. The group is also proposing a footbridge connection over the existing I-175 spur that will function as an important link to the existing Campbell Park. The removal of I-175 creates approximately 20 acres of open land to transform. 
  • The group said it would re-evaluate the initial financial offer of buying the site for $106 million due to the altered plans. 

Read Sugar Hill’s full responses HERE

Midtown Development’s Creekside proposal for the Trop site. Rendering: Midtown Development.

Midtown Development

  • On affordable housing: Midtown’s proposal includes an upfront $10 million payment to the city that 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. 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. 
  • On office space: 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. 
  • On the influence of disparity study findings: Midtown will have a $5 million grant for minority and BIPOC-owned small businesses. 
  • On honoring the Gas Plant neighborhood: The group is proposing to extend the Heritage Trail. Midtown would continue to engage with community stakeholders by partnering with the Pinellas County Urban League. 
  • On the Rays: Midtown has had multiple conversations with the Tampa Bay Rays regarding a potential new stadium within the Tropicana Field site, including a recent meeting between the respective design teams. “It is our hope the Rays remain onsite,” the team wrote. 
  • On the interstate system: Midtown has allocated $500,000 to facilitate the conversation about the potential removal of the Interstate I-75 ramp. The group is working with Clary Consulting, which has expertise in financing state transportation projects. The consultant has offered to create a task force to engage with the community. 
  • 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.

Read Midtown’s full responses here

Welch said he will select a master developer by June 30. 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Janet Wohler

    April 21, 2022at9:13 am

    Question for Sugar Hill. How does a developer go from asking for $800 million dollars in tax payer money to saying “oh, never mind. I will give the City $106 million. “ Are you figuring it out as you go?

  2. Avatar

    Kara Hart

    April 21, 2022at9:43 am

    If this is not elitist then I don’t know what is.

    Sugar Hill and JMA Ventures won an RFP to redevelop a site in Lake Tahoe, promised the community the WORLD with public benefits, and then *suprise* changed their plans, did not follow through on their promises, turning it into a 5-star private resort:

    “I would never have signed up for this and I don’t think the community would come out in droves for this plan. It feels like a bait and switch,” said Renee Koijane, a Homewood resident who did public outreach for the ski resort development in 2010.

    Ms. Brezina, someone should talk to Renee Koijane.

    https://www.moonshineink.com/tahoe-news/homewood-switches-gears/

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