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Hines, Tampa Bay Rays selected as Historic Gas Plant District developer

Local stakeholders have mixed feelings about St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch's pick.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A major development plan in downtown St. Petersburg, years in the making, is now moving forward. 

On Monday morning, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch took a major step in redeveloping the Historic Gas Plant District, an approximate 86-acre plot of land where Tropicana Field sits. He selected the development team that will lead the project. 

The city will partner with Hines and the Tampa Bay Rays, one of the four development groups that submitted a bid for the project.

Welch said it ultimately came down to the proposal from Hines, the Rays and another developer from Sugar Hill Community Partners.

"This has been a complex decision, with two particularly strong proposals from capable teams," Welch said in a statement. "We have received input and feedback from diverse groups and individuals, and we have received staff and consultant analyses of the strengths and weaknesses of the proposals.

"The process was detailed and transparent, and as your mayor, I have done my homework."

The Rays' proposal includes a massive plan for a new stadium but did not include as many commitments to affordable housing and minority opportunities. 

The decision is getting mixed reactions from some people in the community.

Quinn Stefen, assistant general manager at Ferg's Sports Bar in St. Pete said, "This little section of Central Avenue is already popping off on a daily basis and this is just going to put it over the top."

The sports bar sits a pop fly away from Tropicana Field, and Stefen said a development that keeps the Rays at the center will be great for business. 

"If you look in the Edge District, it's already growing up all around Ferg's, but this will be the cherry on top because it's the stadium," Stefen said. 

Other community members who live nearby and recognize Tampa Bay as a major sports community also trust the Hines and Rays development duo to serve the area well. 

"For all the sports lovers here and non-sport lovers, it will be a really fun area for everyone to get together," Hannah Tennant, who lives near the stadium, said.

Her boyfriend, Stephen Gailbreath agrees. 

"Change is the only constant, so I like to see what's being changed and brought about in St. Pete," Gailbreath said. 

However, not everyone agrees with the mayor's decision. 

Bishop Manuel Sykes of Bethel Community Baptist Church is among a group of Black faith leaders in St. Pete who supported the Sugar Hill Community Partners proposal.

When Sykes heard the news, "it felt like a gut punch... It felt like, African Americans lose again."

Sykes said the chosen proposal doesn't properly honor the 86-acre plot of land as a historic African American neighborhood.

"I can imagine the people who had their hopes high feel betrayed and disappointed," Sykes said. "Not only are we not getting what we deserve, but now gentrification will continue to push people out, so we're losing all around."

As the next step in the process, Hines and the Rays will create an agreement with the city which will go in front of St. Pete City Council for approval this fall.

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