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St. Pete Downtown Partnership’s Tropicana Field redevelopment recommendations

Jason Mathis

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Redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site must be a big part of the solution to e city's affordable housing crisis. File photo.

Mayor Kriseman, 

The St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership appreciates the opportunity to provide recommendations and suggestions as you pursue the redevelopment of Tropicana Field. 

We recognize that this is just one step in a long and complex process that will take many years to complete. And the Partnership deeply appreciates your personal commitment throughout your term to making real progress on this project. We pledge to be constructive partners to the City throughout this process.  

Because members of the Downtown Partnership are part of each of the four development proposals, we are concerned about a perceived conflict of interest if we were to pick a winner or rank the proposals. However, as an urban development organization, heavily involved in community issues, we have a relevant role to play in dialogue around this decision. We hope you receive these recommendations in the spirit that they are intended – as a genuine gesture of support and counsel as you undertake a weighty decision that will impact our community for generations.  

In many ways, the most important aspect in choosing a development partner has less to do with specific drawings or abstract plans. It is more about the potential partner’s experience that is relevant to this specific project at this specific time in our history. Much like a marriage, the City will enter into a long-term legal relationship with a partner that will involve negotiating unforeseen obstacles, a changing economic climate and evolving needs. It is important to select a partner who has the capacity to bring the project to fruition and who will reinforce the City’s core principles and values.  

Given this, it is critical that the City understand what role the proposed master development partner will have and what its long-term development approach truly is – from the hold strategy to the selection of development partners to wholly or co-develop specific parcels on the site as a few of the RFP respondents have noted could be undertaken. 

There are eight key areas that we hope you consider as you make a decision about a development partner for the site. These are drawn from the 21 principles the City established through the RFP process. 

1. Honor the site’s history and provide opportunities for economic equity and inclusion.

The unique history of a thriving African American neighborhood – demolished to make way of an industrial park that never materialized – has been well documented. While it will be impossible to completely restore the social and economic fabric that tied this close-knit community together, every effort should be made to support St. Petersburg’s Black community through consequential and long-term strategies from funds and momentum generated by redevelopment efforts. Beyond a traditional Community Benefit Agreement, the City and selected development partner must go above and beyond to ensure that promises for economic vitality in St. Petersburg’s Black community are finally realized through this development. 

The City should prioritize a development partner who has a clear understanding of this unique history and who is committed to working with the City and the Black community in a long-term strategy to create generational wealth for marginalized communities and neighborhoods surrounding the new development. The City should consider the creation of a equity council or some other formal entity to oversee progress on equity and inclusion in this project.  The Bloomberg Harvard Group could serve as a precursor to this effort.  

2. Provide jobs, entertainment, arts and culture opportunities, retail and commercial space, mixed income housing, family-oriented attractions, conference space and a convention quality hotel.

The site offers a host of possibilities. The size of a single parcel located in an already thriving urban center, the adjacency to an interstate with close proximity to international airports and the site’s location in an Opportunity Zone creates an opportunity for a true mixed-use, world class, transit-oriented development. Yet even with the many attributes the site offers there will still be limits to what any development can provide. It will be important for City leaders to prioritize the many possible land uses and provide direction to a development partner.

All of these elements could be included in the final development. But the city should take an active role in determining which elements should be prioritized. As the project develops over time, these priorities may also evolve as the community’s needs change. The right development strategy will factor in the possibility of changing needs over the next few years and allow the City and the development partner to adapt to market shifts and evolving priorities over time.  

Affordable and workforce housing are important elements of complete neighborhoods. The City and development partner should include housing for all incomes to create a strong and vibrant community. Tropicana Field can be used a catalyst for generating funds to build new workforce and affordable housing throughout the City. Leveraging revenue from the Tropicana Field development to create additional affordable and workforce housing throughout the City will extend the investment in this site to neighborhoods throughout St. Petersburg. This additional investment could very well prevent the current housing challenges from becoming acute over the next decade. 

Amenities like convention center space should be based on a market analysis of existing and future forecasted hospitality infrastructure including available hotel rooms, transit options and restaurant capacity to determine the right sized convention facility that can maximize any public investment. 

It will also be critical to include local retailers and activate the ground floors of the development along with implementing a city-wide parking management plan.  The Tropicana Field development offers an incentive and rationale for addressing city-wide urban planning needs that extend beyond the 86-acre site.  As a community, we should use this generational opportunity to develop future infrastructure plans for our entire urban center.  

3. Offer workforce development, childcare, early childhood programs, transportation and mobility improvements and sustainability initiatives.

Providing opportunities for workforce development can help to fulfill some of the promises originally made to help create employment opportunities with on this site. Some form of expanded workforce development could be included in a formalized development plan with the selected partner. This will require expansive thinking and could be a first in the nation of this type of program.  

Because the neighborhood will be purposefully designed and built, it can incorporate leading edge thinking about urban planning and amenities for the full spectrum of lifestyles, socio-economic factors and ages. In addition to thinking about childcare and early childhoods programs, it will be helpful to incorporate features and facilities for retirees and seniors. 

As a city we have emphasized sustainability as key value in driving our future development. Examples of a demonstrated commitment to prioritizing sustainability in past projects will be an important consideration in selecting a development partner. 

4. Include space for research, innovation and higher education uses.

Adjacency to the Innovation District, with its academic and research facilities is a natural benefit of this site. Prioritizing this element of development and setting aside land and resources to partner with one or more educational institutions is a smart investment in the future of our City’s economy. It will be important for the City and development partner to work with the Innovation District to incorporate a shared planning effort that extends the goals in the Innovation District into the Tropicana Field site. Becoming a hub for research, innovation and new technologies will help us continue to transition from a tourism related, service-industry to a high-tech and higher wage economy. Our City’s culture and climate are already well suited to attracting the best and brightest minds from across the globe. This space for research, innovation and higher education should be a priority. Investing a significant amount of land and attention here will help to drive venture capital and increase tech workers to the area to fuel growth in this sector.   

5. Incorporate smart city technologies, promote walkability, connect existing neighborhoods and the regional transportation network.

We applaud the City for including this criterion in the principles for the RFP and encourage the City to continue to emphasize connectivity in the design and planning for this site, even after a development partner is selected. This is especially important in connecting with neighborhoods across Interstate 175 to encourage appropriate investment and development in Campbell Park that will enhance the lives of existing residents. Considerations for supporting the Campbell Park neighborhood should be included in plans for the overall Tropicana Field redevelopment.  

We also believe a transit plan that ties the Warehouse Arts District, Grand Central, Deuces Live, The EDGE District, Innovation District and Downtown Waterfront will be important to the long-term success of the projects. We are very interested in exploring an expanded role for the Downtown Looper, or another free form of easily accessible transportation to connect all the points of our urban center together as Tropicana Field is redeveloped. We hope to work with the City, PSTA and the selected development partner on an expanded free trolley or other transit system as part of the long development and transit plan. 

6. Reserve significant green space and public gathering space.

St. Petersburg is a city that embraces green space and parks. It will be important to create accessible green space of many shapes/sizes including a signature park along Booker Creek into the future design of the site.  Downstream impacts of creating a new Booker Creek park should be carefully examined.  

In addition to designing and building the space, the City and development partner should plan for enhanced management of the space including an ongoing funding mechanism to support management services. Any signature green space should be public parkland and zoned as such.  Revenue sources for management of the parkland could include a Special Services Assessment on the site or setting aside some development revenue into a trust to provide enhanced management services. Leveraging the public investment made in additional green space and public gathering space through enhanced management services will extend the benefits of the site and ensure that the development itself pays for maintenance, enhanced security, clean and safe programs, community events and other enhanced urban management services.

7. Celebrate and enhance the cultural diversity and authenticity of the City.

One of our greatest strengths as an urban center is our support for and commitment to celebrating diversity. We support the City’s efforts to include this value into the development of this important site to ensure it is a place that is welcoming of everyone.  

Design principles that emphasize an authentic and unique feel to the space will help to keep this development special. The architecture, materials and pedestrian experience should reinforce the genuine sense of place that already defines our urban center. When built out, this development shouldn’t feel like Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, Tampa or any other city. It should have a unique element that underscores our local design sensibilities and relaxed coastal vibe. We encourage you to work with a development partner who will make this a place specific showpiece that builds on our architectural and historic foundation.  

8. Work with the Tampa Bay Rays to determine the benefits of including a ballpark in the new development.

The inclusion of a ballpark will have a significant impact on the use of space and overall design of the 86 acres. We appreciate the efforts of the proposers to present designs with and without a ballpark option. We also recognize that for a ballpark to be truly successful, its location must be determined in close coordination with the team. 

In a perfect world, we would have made a determination about the future of Rays baseball on the site before selecting a development partner. The inclusion of a ballpark will significantly alter the land use and overall plans for the site and some developers may be better equipped to execute a successful sports and entertainment complex than others. 

As we have said before, redevelopment of the ballpark is an important consideration, and we encourage the City to do everything possible to ensure there is a viable path forward for the Rays to remain in St. Pete while always acting as responsible stewards of public assets. There seems to be increased interest from our members in researching the dynamics of a two-city solution and trying to understand the pros and cons (and unintended consequences) of this unique approach. We hope a consultant can help to provide additional clarity around this concept and we applaud your decision to hire an expert to provide additional good thinking. We would like to play a constructive role in facilitating this discussion and understanding.  

Mayor, we appreciate the significant work that you and your team have already put into this generational effort and we are grateful for the time and energy spent by developers who hope to develop this site. We hope to continue to be constructive partners and supporters as this project moves forward.   

Sincerely, 

Derek Houston     Barclay Harless     Jason Mathis

Chair                       Vice Chair               CEO

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sharon

    May 15, 2021at6:51 am

    It is honorable that the St. Pete Downtown partnership is acknowledging that they have a conflict of interest and will not come out and recommend one developer.

    I have been following this topic closely, and I can confirm that the below article by Professor Thomas Hallock does the best job outlining the entire complexity of the Trop Site redevelopment. Professor Hallock’s conclusion is that Midtown is the only feasible developer who has the experience and resources (Dollars) to execute this project.

    I invite the mayor to review it if he has not already done so.

    https://www.cltampa.com/news-views/local-news/article/21151421/old-wounds-and-big-promises-weigh-on-proposals-for-redevelopment-of-st-petes-tropicana-field

    Furthermore, Midtown Development’s reputation in Miami is favorable; I asked friends who live in Miami and I also googled videos and images to see for myself.

  2. Avatar

    Rose Hayes

    May 17, 2021at8:12 pm

    What about the original promise made by the City of St. Pete??

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