At every Tropicana Field/Gas Plant redevelopment community input discussion St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch has hosted, the Sugar Hill Community Partners team was in attendance, listening and taking notes.
A development team headed by San Francisco-based developer JMA Ventures and the Machete Group, Sugar Hill Community Partners was one of the two finalists that Welch was considering, before deciding to restart the process and make it a requirement for proposals to include a new Tampa Bay Rays’ stadium.
Despite Welch’s decision to go back to a blank slate, Sugar Hill has kept its eye on the ball as the team members continue to meet every week, showing no plans of withdrawing from the rare opportunity to be part of a massive catalytic project.
“We are continually looking at our proposal and how to redefine and advance it, but our overall approach remains unchanged,” said Dave Carlock, founder and President of the Machete Group.
Welch said a new advertised request for proposals will be published this week. To date, Sugar Hill has invested seven figures into its plans and said it can be flexible when the RFP is released and lists specific aspects.
Carlock said they have engaged with the Rays organization about its future in the city.
“We are familiar with that approach [in working with a sports team on a redevelopment project] and are certainly prepared to have that conversation,” Carlock said.
Sugar Hill’s current proposal highlights the creation of a Community Equity Endowment (CEE), which would collect $30 million over the first 20 years and would be used to fund the construction of affordable single-family homes outside of the Trop site, and provide grants.
As outlined in its original submission, it will build a workforce development program including a $2 million investment in a vocational skills academy. Sugar Hill will also fund a $5 million renovation of Campbell Park at the outset of the Trop development process and will donate $1 million to the city’s African-American History Museum. Additionally, the plan also calls for a redesign of Booker Creek to activate large park space, building thousands of affordable and workforce housing units, and developing a convention center and office space.
However, the team is now seeking to also introduce the concept of urban farming at the site.
“We’d like to incorporate urban farming as it will deliver affordable fresh produce to the underserved communities, and we are looking at organizations that can distribute produce and provide training to people,” Carlock said.
Mango trees once flourished in the Gas Plant neighborhood before the rise of the stadium.
“The site has a rich history that many in St. Pete don’t know about, as it’s been a baseball stadium and parking lot for 32 years. It’s important we acknowledge that history. The community was the home of many city and faith leaders. We want to make sure that you come to the site, you can understand and recognize what was here,” Carlock said.
While the physical aspects of the project will pay homage to its history, Carlock emphasized the programs to successfully train residents on how to obtain jobs, provide affordable places to live, support local merchants and create a sustainable economic structure are “the most effective way to honor what really matters on how the team can deliver on its promises in a meaningful way.”
“We are also talking about opportunities with other community partners related to the workforce and affordable housing, which has been overlooked because developers can use low-income tax credits for affordable units but not workforce and that’s the missing middle part,” he said, explaining that the team would attempt to partner with institutions on workforce housing for nurses, teachers and firefighters.
By working with these institutions, not only can they attract the talent they need by having workforce housing nearby, but it also guarantees the developer a defined absorption rate.
Welch is expected to select a recommended developer by the end of this year. By May 2023, a term sheet would be completed with the preferred developer. Following the execution of the term sheet, the development agreement is expected to go before city council for approval in September or October 2023, according to the city’s current timeline.