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Two meetings, two perspectives on Trop redevelopment

Margie Manning



Trop site redevelopment plans from Midtown (upper left), Unicorp (upper right), Sugar Hill (bottom left) and Portman-Third Lake (bottom right)

The four companies shortlisted as a potential developer for the Tropicana Field site each had a chance to make their case to the business community Tuesday when they pitched their proposals during a St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce event.

A few hours later — and without the developers in the room —  the selection process for the developer and some of the ideas that have been offered for the site were met with skepticism by several members of the Citizens Advisory Committee for the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area.

The contrast at the two meetings highlights what could be a difficult and potentially controversial decision ahead as Mayor Rick Kriseman prepares to select a development firm by May or June with a development agreement in place by September or October.

The city is hosting a series of public events over the next several days so residents can learn more about each plan for the 86-acre Trop site. The planned redevelopment has been described as a “generational” opportunity to transform a major part of the city, with or without a new baseball stadium, and to restore equity to an area that once was home to a thriving Black community.

Related: Public meetings on Trop site plans kick off in April

Keesha Benson, a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee and director of learning at the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, said efforts to get resident input have fallen short in some parts of the city.

“I’ve heard community members say they’ve had door hangers telling them about the meetings, but there are no meetings they could attend near them. They felt that even though Enoch [Enoch Davis Recreation Center] was one of the centers for the visualization, there weren’t any others in south St. Petersburg. Some said they felt like more of the sites were on the north side of St. Petersburg,” Benson said during the CAC meeting late Tuesday.

At the first public meeting, an online event Monday night, each development firm had 15 minutes to present and explain their plan.

“Fifteen minutes for a project whose execution will take over a decade to fulfill, that will cost $2 billion to $3 billion — 15 minutes talk can be really cheap. The devil will be in the details with this,” said Kelly Kirschner, a CAC member and dean of the Division of Executive and Continuing Education at Eckard College. “Talk was cheap back in the late ’70s when the talk was about everything they would do with the dramatic transformation of that area and how it would benefit the residents. Everyone is talking now about the opportunity for this community to get it right and rectify what was done so poorly in the past. The hope for all of us should be there is a true discovery process with these four finalists that draws out very clearly what their commitments are and frankly, how they are committed to South St. Pete.”

The newest member of the CAC, Esther Eugene, president of All Administrative Solutions and president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP, said going forward, she hopes each developer will be allowed to present individually and at more length so community members can get a better sense of each proposal.

“Everyone is going to say what South St. Pete wants to hear, but when you look at body language and hear the verbiage and ask the questions and see the responses to the questions, you get true clarity on what they feel. That’s what was needed,” Eugene said.

Eugene did not endorse any of the plans at the CAC meeting, although she appears in a video produced by one of the developers, Sugar Hill Community Partners, saying “Sugar Hill was able to connect the dots, and the history behind the dots, that truly made up the full spectrum of what the project was.”

The full CAC did not take vote or take a position on the Trop site plans. Rick Smith, manager of Economic and Workforce, said committee members’ comments would be forwarded to the mayor.

Jobs and small businesses

During the St. Pete Chamber program earlier Tuesday, each of the developers spent significant time during their 30-minute presentations talking about how their visions for the Trop site would include equitable development with a focus on south St. Petersburg.

The presentations also highlighted jobs and small business issues.

Sugar Hill’s plan for workforce development and job creation covers each phase of the project — design, construction and operations, said David Carlock, development manager. The construction phase alone will create 30,000 jobs, he said.

“The key is understanding what it takes to make sure South St. Pete and its residents receive the maximum possible benefit of those jobs. We’ve been working with St. Petersburg College, St. Pete Works, ABC Florida Gulf Coast and Pinellas Technical College to figure out what that program would look like – how do we make sure as many residents as possible are aware of those opportunities, are trained to apply for them and then perform that work successfully,” Carlock said.

Sugar Hill has partnered with DuCon Construction in Tampa on pre-construction efforts. DuCon will lead outreach to small women-owned and minority-owned construction, architecture, engineering and development firms, said Ernie DuBose II, CEO.

“We call it mentor to the mainstream, helping smaller businesses get the exposure, experience and relationships they need to level up as a business,” DuBose said.

A rendering of Sugar Hill Commons without a ballpark.

The plan from Portman Holdings, Portman Residential and Third Lake Partners, focuses on building generational wealth and providing educational opportunities to communities that have not had that up to now, said Ken Jones, chairman and CEO of Third Lake Partners.

“We’ll have job training programs to provide ample inclusion in our labor team, both before, during, and more importantly after the project is completed. We’ll have pre-determined significant minority and small business enterprise inclusion targets. We’ll have community strategies to make sure those communities understand what the opportunities are,” Jones said. “This is not just about getting a construction job. This is about having trade and apprenticeship programs so that once we’re done building this, people have permanent life skills … and a meaningful job that imparts economic opportunity to their families.”

Creekside Village is part of the plan from Portman Holdings and Third Lake Partners.

Chuck Whittall, president of Unicorp National Developments, stressed his entrepreneurial experience. He’s a 35-year veteran of the industry and founded Unicorp 23 years ago

“St. Petersburg is a place to create opportunities,” Whittall said. “I understand the need for the community to excel and be uplifted with the project we’re undertaking.”

Part of Unicorp’s development plan includes “flex space,” intended for small businesses, said Bernard Zyscovich, who is architect on the project.

“We’re setting up zoning, and we hope the city will support this, that provides for incubator and accelerator spaces, maker spaces, the types of uses where we don’t have to burden each tenant with having to go through a process of getting approvals at City Hall. We would have a blanket approval for all the innovation and startups — old style and new style — that would be coming up. We’re creating that as part of the DNA of the overall project,” Zyscovich said.

Unicorp’s development program encompasses over 3.2 million square feet of residential, retail, office, flex, innovation, conference and hotel space.

Midtown Development’s proposal includes a commercial complex that centers on the city’s Grow Smarter economic development effort to reduce gaps by race and place in St. Petersburg. It aims to attract companies in target industries such as financial services and data analytics.

The Grow Smarter initiative is blossoming right now, said Ben Siwinski, Gulf Coast managing director for VHB, part of Midtown’s development team.

“This neighborhood is going to be able to absorb all the eyeballs looking at St. Pete right now and the eyeballs looking at St. Pete that say there’s not enough space for our targeted industry to locate. That’s what we envision in this Grow Smarter center, to have those targeted industries located,” Siwinski said. “We also see the Tropicana neighborhood as being a natural flow from the Innovation District, for example, where a lot of those Grow Smarter initiatives and targeted industries are growing up right now.”

Midtown’s Beehive would be a nexus for business and networking

There are two more public meetings on the Trop site plans this week, today (Wednesday, April 7) and Thursday, April 8, both in-person and at the Coliseum at 535 4th Ave. N. in downtown St. Petersburg. They will run from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Capacity will be limited and attendees will be required to wear masks and register in advance for the specific meeting they would like to attend.

For the Wednesday meeting, click here to register. For Thursday’s meeting, click here.

Four immersive showrooms will open on April 12, equipped with executive summaries of each redevelopment proposal, renderings and the ability to leave public comment. Those showrooms will be at:
• North Library: 861 70th Ave. N.
• Mirror Lake Library: 280 5th St. N.
• JW Cate Rec Center: 5801 22nd Ave. N.
• Enoch Davis Rec Center: 1111 18th Ave. S.

There’s also an opportunity to submit comments online here. Organizations, associations and groups can submit a request for a member of the City’s Economic Development team to present during a meeting using this online form.

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