St. Petersburg officials have undertaken a broad community outreach effort to ensure the wellbeing of the city’s Black community is incorporated into the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site.
Developers, who are due to submit proposals by Jan. 15, have been told that equitable redevelopment is crucial to the project, Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, director of urban affairs, told the St. Petersburg City Council Thursday.
The 86-acre Trop site is the largest redevelopment opportunity in the city, and has been described by Mayor Rick Kriseman and others as a “generational development.”
The site occupies the former Gas Plant neighborhood, a thriving Black community. To pave the way for Tropicana Field, 285 buildings were bulldozed, more than 500 households and nine churches were relocated, and more than 30 businesses moved or closed. Promises were made to the Black community at that time, for jobs, housing and economic opportunity.
“We understood that the promises that were made to St. Petersburg’s Black community during that time did not materialize. We want to make sure that does not happen again and that as a city we are very intentional about the way we approach this development and getting it right this time,” Capehart said.
City officials have been reaching out to the Black community as part of their work with the Bloomberg-Harvard City Initiative Cross Boundary Collaborative, where the city decided to focus specifically on equitable redevelopment at the Trop site, Capehart said.
The city brought together a large stakeholder group made up of surrounding neighborhood and business organizations; Black-led economic, history and community service groups; and housing, arts and youth groups, she said.
That stakeholder group said it was important to focus on the history of the site. To do that, Gwendolyn Reese, president of the African-American Heritage Association and a one-time resident of the Gas Plant neighborhood, interviewed 10 other people who also lived in the neighborhood about their experiences there for a video produced by the city and shared with all the potential developers.
“It’s so important to honor the legacy of our elders and to hear that lived experience and how important it is to know what was there before as we plan for what we want to see there in the future,” Capehart said.
Development on the Trop site must include both affordable and workforce housing, said Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin in the video. Other must-haves are revitalization and reconnection to the surrounding neighborhoods, transportation of all kinds, a job creation plan that emphasizes hiring residents of the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area, and opportunities for local and independent shops, as well as affordable commercial space.
The city’s collaboration team has identified factors that could derail the effort, said Sharon Wright, sustainability manager. Those potential barriers to success include the “illusion of inclusion,” the risk that future mayors and their administrations won’t support inclusion, and the uncertainty about the footprint of the site until the Tampa Bay Rays make a decision about where they will play baseball after their lease at the Trop expires in 2027.
Inclusive planning, active listening, broad communications and a willingness to adapt and iterate plans as needed will address those barriers, Wright said.
So will keeping key stakeholders at the table, said Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders.
“As a community we’re not asking for anyone to give us anything. We’re just asking for promises to be kept,” Figgs-Sanders said.
Council member Darden Rice said she was also glad to see ongoing community engagement.
“My fear has been that the administration on their way out the door is going to slap down a blueprint for new buildings for Tropicana redevelopment and basically hamper future leaders from being able to do our job,” said Rice, who is expected to run for mayor in the 2021 election.
Kriseman continues to talk to the Rays about their plans, said Alan DeLisle, the city’s development director.
The first step in the process is to see the proposals from the development community and to see if the Rays submit a proposal, DeLisle said. “Once a developer is selected … then there’s a long process in negotiating with that developer and working out the details of the agreement that will ultimately come to the city council.”
After developer proposals are turned in on Jan. 15, there will be three additional steps that don’t happen with most RFPs, DeLisle said.
• A team will put together a document on strengths and weaknesses in each plan.
• Once there is a short list of developers, possibly three to five possible choices, those developers will be asked to meet with important stakeholders to explain their proposals.
• There also will be a community meeting, where short-listed developers are able to articulate their ideas and for the community to hear them, ask questions and for that documentation to be included in the mayor’s decision.
Nothing will happen quickly, DeLisle said.
“We’re not looking to have a shovel in the ground next year. This is three, four, five years down the road,” he said.
DeLisle said he hopes to bring a proposed community benefits agreement to the Council early in 2021.