ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch announced Hines and the Tampa Bay Rays as the long-awaited master developer for reenvisioning the city's Historic Gas Plant District and Tropicana Field site.
During his state of the city speech Monday, Welch said the group will help spearhead the recreation of the approximate 86-acre plot of land in the heart of downtown St. Pete, which includes the home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Officials stressed proposals for the site needed to honor the Historic Gas Plant District, a vibrant African-American community that was razed 40 years ago when Tropicana Field was built. The city previously said it was looking for proposals emphasizing "affordable and workforce housing; office and meeting space; arts and culture; research, innovation, and education; recreation; open space, healthy and sustainable development; and intentional equity."
"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 chosen developer
Hines is a global real estate investment, development and property manager. The Tampa Bay Rays are, of course, the area's local MLB team that currently plays at Tropicana Field in the center of the property being developed.
The partners say their plans include a 7 million square feet redevelopment plan for "a vibrant, mixed-use district surrounding a state-of-the-art new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays."
Those who favored the Sugar Hill Community Partners' proposal, including a coalition of St Pete’s religious leaders, say they’re disappointed but prepared to work together with the mayor’s selection.
"We have some disappointment, but let us work forward with what we have. And we hope and pray that Hines/Rays understands that community comes first," said Abdul Karim Ali with the Tampa Bay Area Muslim Association.
The new vision
The chosen proposal for the Historic Gas Plant District includes family entertainment, retail, civic and capacity building, arts and culture, food and a new baseball stadium, which would be at the heart of the redevelopment project, according to plans.
There will also be housing options for various income levels.
The renovations are estimated to total more than $6 billion over the next 20-plus years, which includes $2.5-$3 billion to be immediately invested in the construction of a new Rays ballpark and initial development.
"Following construction, the site will become an active, vibrant mixed-use community that is home to the Rays and other events, housing at a wide range of income levels, modern office buildings, hotels and conference space, active green space, and much more," developers explain in the plan.
Hines & Tampa Bay Rays proposal renderings
The city's website details the full proposal from Hines and the Tampa Bay Rays, including the other three proposals from 50 Plus 1 Sports, Restoration Associates and Sugar Hill Community Partners.
“As a child of the Historic Gas Plant District, I consider it to be sacred grounds,” Welch said during his speech. “It has a rich history which predates baseball and our current redevelopment initiative. It was a community, it was evidence of the perseverance of the African American community that endeavored to turn a red-line part of our city into a neighbor of commerce, faith and family.
“And it represents a monumental unfulfilled promise that will finally be kept – the promise of inclusive economic development.”
The MLB team's reaction
Tampa Bay Rays co-president Brian Auld made sure to say multiple "thank you's" for being selected for the future redevelopment during a news conference just hours after the announcement was made.
When asked during the Q&A session if the Rays are committed to staying and playing in St. Petersburg past 2027 — when the team's lease expires, Auld says the team is "fully engaged" with the city.
"We intend to work aggressively going forward to meet all expectations the city has in terms of timeline and hurdles along the way," the co-president said. "But as we talked about, we are at the very beginning here, and there's a lot that still needs to go right for us to get a shovel in the ground.
"Up until that shovel is in the ground, it's important that we continue to have dialogue about preserving the Rays in Tampa Bay for generations to come and all the different ways that can could happen."
And when asked if the team is still looking in Tampa for a possible future move, Auld simply answered, "We're continuing the dialogue."
Before any set-in-stone decisions can be made toward the groundbreaking of a new baseball park, Auld explains there are specific steps needed to happen.
"We need to reach a development agreement with the city administration, we need city council approval on the agreement, we're going to need a financing plan for the ballpark and we're going to need the county's support on that," the co-president said. "And I suspect that while we've put together a pretty robust plan we feel great about – as we continue to get deeper and deeper into the feedback process, a lot of that is going to change along the way, too."