St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch has held a seat at the table over the years in determining the future of the 86-acre Tropicana Field site. With the rise of new and heightened priorities coming into focus, he is reigniting the process of selecting the right team.
“I’ve been involved in this process since the beginning as a county commissioner, so I reviewed their proposals [from multiple developers] and I’ve gone to the meetings. I’ve always thought to move forward, the No.1 the key element, which is why we are doing these community conversations again, is a lot of this happened in the midst of the pandemic so you had limited input,” Welch said Monday inside City Hall.
“I’ve always thought we needed more public input. Obviously, having the Rays and the possibility of the Rays actually having input from the start is vital. Something that I agreed on with the city council when they said last year, when I was a mayoral candidate, that they didn’t want to move forward on if there was a big question mark about the Rays.”
Welch’s announcement of restarting the engagement sessions for the Trop site follows his decision last month to restart the request for proposals process rather than selecting a proposal from the finalists – Midtown Development or Sugar Hill Community Partners.
“They each had strengths and weaknesses, even going back to Third Lake’s proposal, but the biggest question mark is, is there a stadium? And where is the stadium within that 86 acres?” Welch said, noting he was always concerned about the amount of affordable and workforce housing. “This is one of our biggest opportunities to make a real impact on housing, but you also don’t want all of the housing to go in that one slot, so can your models support affordable housing offsite? Then there are the different approaches to green space and how to enhance Booker Creek.
“We need to have a reset [on the RFP] based on current realities based on the economy and the housing market. I’m from the Gas Plant – this has been a 40-year-old promise,” Welch said, recalling his experience of watching the rise of the stadium decades ago displace his neighborhood – a development that was touted as a major win that would bring a swell of economic activity.
“There was a community that existed way before a baseball stadium so in my view, relatively, waiting another six months to a year is not unreasonable. We’ve waited 40 years for promises of economic development that obviously have not happened,” Welch said about taking the time to vet proposals.
“A lot has changed in our economy, and we’ve seen the results in our structural racism study that showed a lack of diversity in city procurement. I think a lot of things have changed. The housing issue is now front and center for every community. St. Pete has been impacted by some of the largest rental increases in the nation. We want to reassess what the priorities are going forward and the best way to utilize those 86 acres, and community conversations are the best way to refresh what we have heard from the public.”
Welch said the conversations with the Rays have been promising, although ensuring a future home for the Rays isn’t the sole purpose of the redevelopment, it is a requirement that all of the newly submitted proposals must include a stadium in the plans.
“After taking office, one of the things we wanted to reestablish is that relationship between the city and the Rays officially and bring in the county,” Welch said, stating there have been meetings with Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, financial consultants and the Rays.
“I’m really optimistic that we can have equitable development and the Rays cannot only be a part of that, but they can be a driver … it’s about community development for the Historic Gas Plant District that includes a Rays’ stadium, and I think that Rays’ stadium can be a very supportive economic driver for that, and the Rays have been very receptive to that,” he said.
His team is crafting the language for the RFP and hopes to have it out on the street by mid-August.
When asked if multiple developers could work on different components, Welch didn’t have a definitive answer; however, he did say, “You definitely want the flexibility to have the best group of partners to meet the vision of the community going forward.”