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Residents speak out at Rays/Hines public hearing

David Krakow

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Tampa Bay Rays Presidet Brian Auld Wednesday at the St. Petersburg Coliseum. Photo: David Krakow.

Affordable housing – and the affordability of St. Petersburg as a whole – was the main topic of conversation for speakers at the first public hearing about the development of the Historic Gas Plant District held Wednesday night at the Coliseum.

“They are taking more than they give. That’s just how corporations work,” said Madison Rice. “The city needs to fight for what we (residents) need as much as they do for what they want.” Rice was referring to the Hines/Rays partnership, the public-private entity comprising global real estate investment firm Hines and the Tampa Bay Rays that was chosen to develop the 86-acre tract downtown. The centerpiece would be the Rays’ new $1.3 billion stadium, earmarked for a 2028 debut.

The eight million square foot district is due to include, other than the stadium, 6,000 housing units plus office/medical, retail, a hotel, a 600-unit senior living tract, an entertainment venue, 100,000 square feet of conference/meeting space, 14,000 parking spaces and the new home of the Woodson African American Museum.

The housing breaks out as 4,800 market rate and 1,200 affordable to be completed in four stages between the years 2030 and 2047. Hines stated that a minimum of 600 of the 1,200 affordable housing units will be on-site, while the rest would be located elsewhere in the city.

“There is nothing of this size and scope anywhere in the country,” proclaimed Rays President Brian Auld, “that depends on the support of every section of the community. We know we will not be perfect.”

Said Michael Harrison, Senior Managing Director for Hines: “We are really creating a city within a city. We’ve done affordable housing, retail, offices etc. We’ve had experience putting these all together.”

Officials did not speak after the public comments were completed.

The majority of the speakers made it clear that they already find the plan imperfect, well before shovels will hit the ground. Construction on the stadium and site infrastructure are due to begin in the fourth quarter of 2024.

“When you say affordable, affordable to who,” asked resident Phyllis Young, one of 22 public speakers at the event. “This is my neighborhood,” she added, telling the crowd that she grew up in the area now occupied by Tropicana Field’s parking lot. “I would like to see more of an affordability factor built in.”

“You talk about affordable housing but I don’t see it,” added Lorna Perez, who said that she’s heard St. Pete called St. Miamisburg, partially owing to housing costs that have risen 63% in the past three years. “At this point, we’re focused on surviving, not enjoying the city.”

That theme – the rising cost of living in the city – was echoed by many to decry the impression that the partnership deal and plans are nothing more than a scheme to aid the rich at the expense of the lower- and middle-income residents of the city. Many cited Brookings Institute and other studies that have questioned the benefits of using public money for private projects.

“Using public funds for stadium development is a bad investment,” complained Frank Cirillo. “This is clearly a political decision.”

Cirillo also used his three minutes to point out that the average baseball fan is 57 years old and getting older – stating, as others did, that there is no magic bullet to address the Rays’ attendance woes. Attendance hit a nadir in October when the Trop was half-empty for the team’s two playoff games against the Texas Rangers.

One speaker said that residents of the rest of the region – mostly Tampa – had a “mental block” and simply had no interest in crossing the bridge to come to Rays’ games or to St. Pete, period.

It was suggested that it’s already too late for some city residents. “I have friends moving out of St. Pete because they can’t afford to live here anymore,” said Warren Willingham. “We don’t need an outdoor mall.”

The plans did receive a thumbs up from one resident, Kenneth Mack. He stated that he has lived in Texas and seen firsthand successful neighborhood revitalization efforts anchored by stadiums of the Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers. “It’s a pretty solid proposal,” he said. “I do think this has an opportunity to help us all.”

St. Pete Chamber of Commerce President Chris Steinocher put the need to support the plan in more dire terms. “I’m not sure who will develop this (if Hines/Rays pulls out),” he said. “If we delay it today, when will it happen?” Warning the crowd that any developer will be looking to turn a profit, he added “I can’t look at that parking lot for 10 more years.”

Dr. Jordan Basha Jr. used gallows humor to address his fears. “Promises were made, promises were broken,” he said in reference to the destabilization of the former Gas Plant neighborhood caused by construction of the Trop. Referencing minority hiring and other promises this time, he asked ruefully, “why not shoot higher so we can fall higher?”

There will be four additional public hearings at City Hall Jan. 9, 16, 23 and 30. Residents have until Dec. 31 to comment online at stpete.org/GasPlant.

 

 

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Dave Perez

    December 17, 2023at10:26 am

    GET THIS DONE NOW, I’m willing to wager that probably everyone saying kill the deal probably didn’t go to any games and will complain know matter what. My wife and I live in Land O Lakes fl which makes it at least a 45-60 minute drive and we went to 10-12 games which relates s to 10% and would’ve went to more but health reasons affected that.

  2. Avatar

    HAL FREEDMAN

    December 17, 2023at1:34 am

    600 “affordable” housing units of the 6,000 on site? That’s 10%. The Moffitt deal the Mayor killed had almost twice the percentage, but it wasn’t enough. In addition those “affordable” units could be almost 25 years away. The administration’s lip service to “affordable” housing is nothing more than lip service.

    Why were Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates able to build what they did at Water Street Tampa in less than 5 years, while Rays/Hines will take 30 years for the Gas Plant project? Oh yeah, the stadium will be built in 4-5 years, and we can wait for the rest of the project, the part that benefits the tax payers.

    Why not kill this deal, wait until 2027, when the Rays no longer split the development proceeds with the City, and see if Strategic Partners (Vinik/Gates) would take a shot at it. They seem to get things done!

  3. Avatar

    Mike Connelly

    December 15, 2023at9:19 pm

    MLB

    Major
    League
    Blackmail

    Ask Oakland…., History repeats itself ’cause no one listens the first time.

  4. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    December 15, 2023at5:08 pm

    Please, city council, kill this deal.

  5. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    December 15, 2023at6:34 am

    So glad to see the residents of St Pete recognizing how bad this is for their City. Auld said that there is “nothing this size or scope anywhere .” He is correct if he is talking about the city public giveaway. Steinocher’s message says it all: It’s reduced to the fear of no one else will do it when Midtown Development was going to do it with or without the Rays for a lot less city money and a lot more private, taxable development and more affordable housing. Economic Development Journals are already circulating the wagons about this being the worst deal ever done. Stay strong St Pete!!

  6. Avatar

    Élise Hazzard

    December 14, 2023at6:34 pm

    why is the city so interested in GIVING that property at a fire sale price to the Ray/Hines development?? Just to make good on a promise?
    The financial (funding) burden will represent nearly 50% of the city’s future budget that will cost residents in more expensive dollars futuristically.

    Hugely irresponsible to burden a city’s budget and not gain any revenue.
    Worst negotiation in history.

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