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Revamped Trop Field site will be a ‘Grow Smarter research and business park’

Margie Manning

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Tropicana Field

St. Petersburg development officials are preparing a request for proposals to find a private developer to revamp the 86-acre Tropicana Field site.

It will be up to Mayor Rick Kriseman to determine when the RFP is released, and it will be years after that before the first shovel goes into the ground, Alan DeLisle, development administrator, told the St. Petersburg City Council Thursday.

While many of the specifics of a redeveloped Trop site are still undetermined, DeLisle was clear on a few points, including the project’s tie to the city’s Grow Smarter strategy, which targets high-skill, high-wage jobs in specific industries.

“This essentially is going to be a Grow Smarter research and business park. In many ways this is a place where we can accommodate business activity that we can’t right now,  if we do this right,” he said.

A redeveloped Trop site will be connected to surrounding communities, be an employment center and have a range of housing options, DeLisle said.

“The mayor has made it clear this will be a mixed-use community. This is not going to be turned over to a developer to do luxury condos. That’s not going to happen,” DeLisle said.

DeLisle gave his update just after Kriseman told council members that he is confident the city can move forward with development plans for the site, despite reported statements by the Tampa Bay Rays that a use agreement between the city and the Rays would allow them to block development.

DeLisle said just about every major developer in the country has called him about the project.

“I don’t have any concerns that the developers I’ve been talking to are going to want to play. Whether they want to play in four or five or seven years, they will have the capacity to stay with us as a partner. That will be one of the criteria. They will need to be patient, depending on how this all works,” DeLisle said. “I have no doubt and I usually play it safe, but I have no doubt that the development community will respond to this, with a resolution to the Rays or without. They want to play with us in the sandbox.”

Several new details about Trop site planning were revealed during the meeting.

• In addition to two conceptual studies of the site, with and without a baseball stadium, there has been a third study, tied to the city’s Integrated Sustainability Action Plan, a blueprint for the city’s planned transition to 100 percent clean energy, environmental stewardship, resiliency and racial justice.

“We decided to do a specific plan related to the ISAP at the Trop site,” DeLisle said. “What can we do with smart city technology, with health in all policies and designs, and sustainable and resilient infrastructure? What do we want in place there that sends a strong message to the market place that we are far ahead of anyone else in our thinking in this regard? That’s very important to the business community.

“So we did that study, we have it done, we have several recommendations in that plan and it will directly relate to the RFP that we do.”

• A separate mobility study to understand transportation flows in the area is underway, led by Forward Pinellas and with participation by the Florida Department of Transportation. That study will, among other things, look at options for Interstates 375 and 175, which are viewed by some as mistakes that created barriers in the community, DeLisle said.

He also would like to see a regional transportation plan that looks at the Trop site as a major destination and examines how people get to and from the site.

• A collaboration team has been meeting to ensure the community’s interests are represented in the project, Deputy Mayor and City Administrator Kanika Tomalin said.

“Last fall Mayor Kriseman convened about two dozen stakeholders from various interest points around this project to do a cross-sector collaboration to make sure that the community’s interests are dynamically and robustly represented, even beyond the visioning process that we did … Affordability was a key component and we’re looking to their expertise to help guide that project,” Tomalin said.

That team is scheduled to make a presentation to Kriseman in the coming weeks, followed by community engagement and outreach after that.

That’s key, said Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders.

“This is a monumental undertaking and we want to make sure everyone feels included,” she said.

Figgs-Sanders and Council member Amy Foster urged the city administrators to make sure that community benefits are “baked into” a development agreement.

Several council members offered their suggestions for facilities at a redeveloped Trop site, including early learning and child care facilities; convention space for business gatherings; and a park or green space where the history of the Tropicana Field site, including its former use as a thriving African American community, could be highlighted.

Closer look: Timeline for redevelopment

City council member Robert Blackmon pressed DeLisle for a timeline for Tropicana Field site redevelopment.

It’s hard to say, DeLisle responded.

“If the RFP went out this year, then you’re probably selecting a developer next year …  Then you have the selection process, which is probably months after that. Then whoever is selected, you’ve got to work through a term sheet and a development agreement and that could take six months. Then there’s due diligence and a pre-development period to work on studies, then permitting.

“It’s hard to say. You’re talking years,” DeLisle said.

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