Mayor Ken Welch, city administrators, County Commissioner Renee Flowers, Congresswoman Kathy Castor, representatives from the Hines development group, business leaders and club members gathered at the BallPark &Rec sports bar inside Tropicana Field for two reasons. Foremost was hearing Auld discuss the redevelopment of the stadium site and Historic Gas Plant District and the latest Rays and Tampa Bay Rowdies insights.
However, the event also provided an opportunity for lighthearted discussions among stakeholders now working on a generational project. Amid the drinks, food and laughter, Auld provided some thoughts regarding Welch’s “brilliant decision” to select the Rays/Hines development team to transform 86 acres of prime St. Petersburg real estate.
Auld said the city’s request for proposals forced team leadership to recruit “some of the greatest minds” in development, planning and architecture to build something “truly inclusive” that honors the predominantly Black community displaced from the Gas Plant District.
“I believe we’ve done that, and we couldn’t be more proud of it,” Auld added. “And we’re going to rely on everyone in the room, and so many more, to execute this vision. We’ve already been working in earnest with the city, and we’re going to keep chugging along.”
Following his presentation, Auld told the Catalyst that the redevelopment team and city administrators held their first official meeting Wednesday. He said they scheduled future engagements, and it seems like everyone is working as quickly as possible.
The city’s draft term sheet requires a 30-year contractual non-relocation agreement. When asked if he thought that time frame was too short or too long, Auld said most negotiation details must occur publicly due to Florida’s “Sunshine Law.”
“I will say that we expect the team to be here for a very long time,” Auld said. “Wherever we put a shovel in the ground next. So, 30 years doesn’t scare us at all.”
The 39-page draft term sheet set provisions for a new ballpark “comparable in size, scope and quality as the first-class stadiums recently constructed in Cobb County, Georgia.” It included detailed descriptions of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home to the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, and referenced MLB’s Atlanta Braves.
Auld said nothing in the nation could compare to what his team hopes to accomplish in St. Petersburg.
He elaborated on the inimitability of a project that will transform nearly 100 urban acres, honor the displaced African American community and includes a $50 million commitment to intentional equity efforts. “So, I don’t think there’s anything like it anywhere else in the country,” Auld added.
“I think St. Petersburg is a unique city,” he said. “If we’re able to go through and complete this incredible opportunity, I don’t know what people could compare it to.
“But I think it’s going to be really special.”
According to a recently released appraisal from Tampa-based Urban Realty Solutions, the 76 acres around the Trop are worth $330 million. The valuation is solely based on the land and excludes improvement and demolition costs.
The Rays/Hines proposal states they would offer $64.5 million and value the land at $97 million. Despite that discrepancy, Auld said the development team emerging victorious through two RFPs “speaks for itself.”
He added that their proposal was the most compelling and addressed everything city administrators hoped to see at the site. He also noted direct discussions regarding additional needs have just begun, and nothing is final.
“They (city officials) put together an incredible RFP that laid out a lot of the most important issues for us,” Auld said. “And now we get to find out if we did address them just the way they wanted us to or how we might want to tweak things going forward.”
A Tiger Bay member asked Auld about the seemingly incompatible development objectives of boosting revenue and attendance while creating affordable housing and honoring the site’s legacy. He began his answer by stating city staffers in attendance would hold them accountable.
Auld also noted that St. Petersburg is the smallest Major League Baseball city, “and it’s not even close.” While that creates well-documented challenges, he said it also provides opportunities for Thursday’s event, which he called “really special.”
He told attendees that the Rays mean more to St. Pete than the Yankees mean to New York, “which is an awesome feeling and incredibly rewarding.” However, Tampa Bay also plays in the same division as the team with the $266.34 million active payroll.
The Rays’ 2023 payroll is just under $64 million. As such, Auld said the team must generate as much revenue as possible to ensure the team can contribute to new stadium costs, remain in the city long-term and honor the Historic Gas Plant District.
He relayed that achieving those goals will require extensive public-private partnerships.
“And that’s why I tell you all that we look forward to you holding us accountable,” Auld said. “We want to make sure we do this right.”