A proposed sports tourism complex for the Tyrone area in west St. Petersburg took a big step forward, when a city commission approved a development plan and rezoning for the project.
Unanimous approval by the Community Planning and Preservation Commission followed a nearly two-hour debate.
Opponents raised concerns about noise, traffic and safety, and Pinellas County’s top economic development official believes the project site is more appropriate for industrial uses. Proponents saying the sports tourism complex would bring a productive use to long-vacant land and provide economic benefits, including about 100 new jobs and workforce housing.
The project still faces additional public hearings in the St. Petersburg City Council and reviews by several county and state agencies.
Porter Development in Clearwater is proposing a 150,000 square foot indoor sports, events and recreation facility, an adjacent four-acre lagoon and outdoor recreation area, indoor and outdoor restaurants and retail spaces, a container park and apartments, as the St. Pete Catalyst exclusively reported in October. It would be built on 29 acres of vacant land at 1501 72nd St. N., at a site formerly occupied by aerospace and defense firm Raytheon.
Les Porter, president of Porter Development, said the Raytheon property is a “perfect fit” for the project and a chance to make a positive impact in the community.
“Normally I focus on retail shopping centers … but with this project we really are excited about bringing a sports center and all it can offer to the community,” Porter told planning commission members.
Porter Development previously built The Shoppes at the Royale on 66th Street, and is currently developing a Publix Super Market in the Westshore Business District in Tampa.
The sports complex also would include 623 apartments, with at least 30 percent of them designated as workforce housing.
“I believe the city of St. Pete has a goal of 1,000 workforce housing units over the next 10 years. We may be able to bring 15 to 20 percent of that total count with this one project,” Porter said.
Events hosted at the indoor facility would result in $16.1 million in economic impact, according to an analysis by Sports Facility Advisors, a Clearwater firm that specializes in developing sports and events centers all around the country.
Neighborhood associations near the project weighed in during the hearing. Two of them — the Jungle Terrace Civic Association and Azalea Homes Community Association – support the plan, said Dr. Ed Carlson, president of Jungle Terrace Civic Association.
The Crossroads Area Homeowners Association opposes the plan, said Jim Schattman, president of the Crossroads group. Schattman cited concerns about noise from the indoor complex, the outdoor lagoon and the container park. He also said the neighborhood association is worried about traffic and safety.
“We think 22nd Avenue and 72nd street will be clogged by 7,886 daily trips and drivers who occupy the 1,719 parking spaces. … They will also become a danger to other drivers, Azalea Park users and local residents,” Schattman said. “We think not having an onsite security force to maintain order or direct traffic on a 29.11 acre site which is open to 24 hour access by a combination of sports complex customers and apartment dwellers in cars and on foot is unfathomable. Add the sale of alcohol from three venues and the situation becomes civilly negligent and criminally liable.”
Other nearby residents raised concerns about potential groundwater contamination at the site. Raytheon is responsible for the cleanup and built a cleaning facility on the south end of the property several years ago.
Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County Economic Development, suggested there’s a better use for the land.
“We have a very great shortage of industrial property in Pinellas County right now. The vacancy rate is 3 percent and part of the problem is there’s huge pressure on changing land use from industrial to any other category, primarily because of low cost of industrial property. It’s the lowest priced per acre of any land use you can find, so any land use change will make money for the owner of the property,” Meidel said. “There’s a lot of pressure to convert to residential and to other commercial uses, which you are seeing here tonight. There are several other proposed properties that you will hear about in months to come that are asking to convert industrial use into residential and commercial uses.
“Yes, there will be 100 new jobs associated with this project, but they are hospitality and leisure jobs that tend to pay about one-third of what our manufacturing jobs currently pay in Pinellas County.”
The city received a letter on Oct. 13, 2020 from Stonemont Financial Group, indicating an interest in redevelopment of the property for an industrial distribution center use. C. Copley Gerdes, a planning commission member who lives in west St. Petersburg, said he would prefer a sports complex to other potential uses.
“I think about somebody like Amazon coming in and trucks going in and out, and I would much rather have this. I’m not sure my pick for my neighborhood would be this, and I’m a sports guy, but if I’m picking one over the other, I’m going this way,” Gerdes said.
The commission voted unanimously to approve a development agreement and amendments to the future land use map and zoning map. The development agreement requires that the sports tourism facility will be built before, or concurrently with, the apartments. It also says the buildings won’t be taller than 48 feet, and a public bicycle/pedestrian connection will be built through the property providing public access to the Pinellas Trail at 72nd Street and Azalea Park.
A first reading and public hearing in the St. Petersburg City Council tentatively is set for Feb. 4, followed by reviews by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, among other agencies. A second public hearing is tentatively planned for May before the City Council.