For baseball fans in Tampa Bay and beyond, the big news Tuesday was the Rays reaching a deal with the city of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County to build a new $1.3 billion stadium on the site of Tropicana Field, with the team paying more than half.
But the stadium is only part of the entire 86-acre, $6.5 billion redevelopment of the Gas Plant District.
Over 20 years, the team and its development partner, global real estate investment firm Hines, aim to build out a mixed-use district that will surpass major regional developments like Water Street Tampa and Midtown Tampa in both acreage and cost.
Among the highlights: 6,000 residences, including 1,200 affordable and workforce units both on- and off-site; 1.4 million square feet of office space; 750,000 square feet of retail; a 750-room hotel and 100,000 square feet of conference space, and 14,000 parking spaces, starting with a garage to service Rays fans while the new stadium is being built. It’ll also include refurbished park space along Booker Creek, a concert or entertainment venue that can hold up to 4,000; and new space for the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum.
Hines chairperson and co-CEO Jeff Hines said it’s the largest project currently underway at Hines, which has developed stadiums like San Diego’s Petco Park and Houston’s Toyota Center. He called it a “city-defining project.”
“Hines has a proven track record of developing large-scale, multiphase projects that serve as a centerpiece for their communities, and we are honored to bring that experience to the city of St. Petersburg,” he said.
Some components of the plan unveiled Tuesday have ballooned from the original Rays-Hines proposal — starting with the price tag. The estimated $6.5 billion cost, up from $4 billion, is “more than we would’ve expected,” Rays President Matt Silverman said.
But he said that increased input reflects the team’s confidence in the new project. Building restaurants, shops and housing that will allow people to work and live on the property would ultimately contribute to the ballpark’s long-term success.
“Having the development associated with it allows us to create the kind of place we need to draw the fans in year in and year out over the next 30 years,” he said.
Another scaled-up component: Affordable housing. Hines increased the number of units after extensive discussions with St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, senior managing director Michael Harrison said. Adding units off-site and dedicating more units for seniors increased affordable housing by 40%.
“It was clear from Mayor Welch that affordable housing, if it wasn’t the top priority, it was really up there in the top two,” he said.
Hines outlined a commitment of $50 million for “intentional equity initiatives” in the city, including $15 million for affordable housing programs, $13 million for an incubation program aimed at minority- and women-owned businesses, and $17.5 million for educational programs, including day care, vocational programs and the new Woodson museum. Developers are targeting a minority hiring commitment of 20% or more.
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The development agreement, which still needs to be approved by the St. Petersburg City Council and the Pinellas County Commission, calls for the Hines development team to pay $105.3 million for the land, and for the city to provide up to $130 million in funding for public site infrastructure, down from $150.4 million in the original plan. That’s on top of the $600 million the city and county would commit to a new stadium.
Welch said the city would use bonds to pay its share of the stadium cost. Commissioner Janet Long said the county’s share would come from the tourist bed tax, with enough left over for beach restoration and other local projects.
St. Pete City Administrator Rob Gerdes said that, over time, the city and county would recoup their investments in ways that have nothing to do with baseball.
“Right now, this 86 acres produces zero dollars in property taxes,” he said. “Through this 20- to 30-year development, we anticipate that it’ll be $200 million to Pinellas County schools — this is going to help local schoolchildren. $55 million to PSTA (Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority) — this is going to help bus riders in our city. And hundreds of millions of dollars to the city and county in new ad valorem (property) taxes. So this isn’t giving money away with no return. We are focused on the return.”