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St. Pete mayor suggests timetable for Trop site decision

Margie Manning

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Mayor Rick Kriseman is likely to pull the trigger on a specific redevelopment plan for Tropicana Field in about a year.

The mayor expects to know by then whether the Trop site will be redeveloped with a baseball stadium or without one.

He’s not only waiting for a signal from the Tampa Bay Rays, who play their home games at the Trop, but also keeping a close eye on the economy.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman speaking at the Downtown Partnership

“I believe at some point in the next couple of years, the market will slow down. I don’t think we’ll see a recession like we just went through, but we want to catch this as the rise is still happening. We don’t want try to catch it on the downside of the wave,” Kriseman said Wednesday, at the quarterly leadership lunch for the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership.

“Look for something to happen sometime in the next year or so, one way or the other,” he said.

Plans have been in flux for about six months, since the Rays scrapped a plan for a stadium in Ybor City.  At that time, Kriseman said Trop site redevelopment plans would move forward whether or not the Rays wanted to keep playing at the location.

That’s still true, he told the Downtown Partnership.

“We’re got 86 acres — or 70 if the stadium is still there — that we want to redevelop. We think it’s an incredible opportunity to redevelop. We’ve done a master plan with a stadium and without a stadium on it. We’re looking for a little bit of heads up from the team as to whether we should be talking to a potential master developer about redeveloping it with a stadium or without the stadium, but we want to get moving on it soon,” he said.

He said he continues to have discussions with Rays owner Stu Sternberg and presidents Matt Silverman and Brian Auld about the future of the franchise.

“I’ve tried to make it clear to those guys that St. Petersburg is ready to be a partner. We still believe that this is the best city and that is the best location long-term for the team,” Kriseman said.

While attendance and corporate support for the team haven’t been as strong as they should have been historically, Kriseman said there’s lots of reasons to be positive about the future.

“Between the growth that’s happening in St. Pete and in Tampa, between the transportation changes that are on the books and being planned right now, from the Howard Frankland to the Gandy interchange, from premium transit from Wesley Chapel to high-speed rail from Orlando to downtown Tampa – and the Ferry – some of the impediments that have made it difficult for people to get over I think are going to go away, and that’s why I’m bullish and optimistic about the future of the franchise here in St. Pete,” Kriseman said.

Both scenarios for redevelopment include significant office space, a major focus for the city, because it wants to have enough places for existing and new businesses. Land and construction costs have limited office development in recent years, although falling vacancy rates and rising rents are starting to make office construction look more feasible, developers have said.

United Insurance Holding Corp. (Nasdaq: UIHC), which is building a new headquarters downtown, will add some office space, along with parking, and most of the development plans submitted for the old St. Petersburg Police headquarters building have some office component as well.

The Downtown Partnership is doing its own work on creating more office space downtown, said Jason Mathis, CEO.

“We’re working on a major research project right now that we think will lay the groundwork and build the case for private sector investment in office space,” Mathis said. The city’s economic development team, along with officials from Pinellas County and University of South Florida St. Petersburg, are working with private sector leaders on the research project, which Mathis hopes to complete in September.

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