St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman picks Midtown Group to redevelop Tropicana Field

The mayor narrowed candidates to four firms five months ago.

Campbell Park on Dec. 2, 2021, before St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced his decision on who will develop the Tropicana Field site. - PHOTO BY RAY ROA
Photo by Ray Roa
Campbell Park on Dec. 2, 2021, before St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced his decision on who will develop the Tropicana Field site.

In a Thursday press conference, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he’s picked Midtown Development to redevelop the site around Tropicana Field.

The decision comes five months after Kriseman narrowed candidates for redevelopment of Tropicana Field to proposals from Midtown Development and Sugar Hill Community Partners. In the eyes of City Wilds columnist Dr. Thomas Hallock, Sugar Hill and Midtown were the best of the four initial proposals on the table, adding that the Miami-based Midtown group led by Alex Vadia, “by contrast, does the best job keeping its eye on the prize. Avoiding the more complicated financials and social engineering…”

“Midtown emphasizes housing, with a promise of 1,000 units, and the partnership carries a weighty endorsement by Reverend Watson Haynes of the Pinellas County Urban League,” Hallock added.

Sugar Hill took its name from the prosperous Black neighborhood buried under I-175; its plan most deeply reflects upon the recent past, and beneath Sugar Hill’s veneer of the local (as with the other groups) lies a formidable operating team, one that seems to specialize in high-developments flanking stadiums and “revitalized” urban cores.

In explaining his selection of Midtown to gathered press, Kriseman continuously reiterated Midtown was undaunted by "Twenty-One Guiding Principles of Development" in the request for proposal. Those principles, in part, ask the developer to honor the site’s history and provide opportunities for economic equity and inclusion."

During the 1970s, Interstate-175 leveled well-constructed homes of doctors, teachers, pastors, dentists, professionals, and entrepreneurs along Fifth Avenue S. A decade years later, the city razed Gas Plant, the adjacent and poorer section of town. The city first promised light industry then built a domed stadium—for a baseball team that did not even exist.

There are things that the city certainly will be able to contribute toward the Rays staying on the site, but the actual cost of the construction, if it's a split season, would not be one of them

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The principles also call for Midtown to "value diversity, small business, and 'authenticity'..." but also incorporate a fancy hotel and 50,000-100,000 square foot convention center. In his assessment of the plan, Hallock wrote that those two things rarely yield equity or authenticity."

Kriseman hammered home the point that while he is the mayor to select Midtown for the redevelopment of the Trop site, he—or Mayor-Elect Ken Welch, who won the November election with more than 60% of the vote—won't be the last to handle this redevelopment. In fact, this project could take decades to see complete fruition.

In a statement sent after the press conference, Welch—who was absent to attend a conference for the country's incoming mayors—said he would put in the same amount of work that Kriseman did in coming to a selection.

While the selection of Midtown is a big step forward, and one Kriseman did not want to leave for future administrations, finalizing and hammering out the details and ultimate approval of Midtown to develop the site will still fall on the feet of the Welch administration and incoming City Council members.

In his comments, Kriseman called on city hall, future mayors and Midtown to keep moving the process forward hand-in-hand with the community. "Remember, this is not a mayoral project. This is a St. Petersburg project. It is the biggest and most important one yet." Kriseman said.

As Tampa Bay Business Journal points out, Midtown’s proposal said it would invest $2.7 billion-$3.8 billion into the 86-acre site based on the density of the area.

"The proposal shows the company would spend at least $94 million on public improvements and an additional $5 million in grants for minority-owned small businesses. Midtown has offered the city $60 million for the property and is seeking $75 million in city funding for infrastructure work," TBBJ added.
click to enlarge A site plan showing Midtown's plan for redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site without the stadium, which would go inside the circle. - RENDERING C/O CITY OF ST. PETERSBURG (MARKUP BY CL)
Rendering c/o City of St. Petersburg (markup by CL)
A site plan showing Midtown's plan for redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site without the stadium, which would go inside the circle.
What's more is that the RFP required Midtown and other developers to submit a plans that includes a new stadium for the Rays and one for if/when team ownership finally gets a new stadium in Ybor City.

Citing a confidentiality agreement, Kriseman would not get into the details about his conversations with the Rays regarding the selection of Midtown, but the mayor did reiterate his skepticism about a split season with Montreal.

"From a process standpoint, how do you make that work? I'm not opposed to it. But I also wouldn't utilize general revenue dollars or increased taxes to pay for the stadium," Kriseman said. "There are things that the city certainly will be able to contribute toward the Rays staying on the site, but the actual cost of the construction, if it's a split, season would not be one of them."

For what it's worth, powerful Tampeños, including several business associations and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor have openly said they would welcome the Rays to the 813. Tampa Bay's newspaper of record appears to be really thirsty for an Ybor City ballpark, that would actually live on land owned by Darryl Shaw, a local developer who's loaned a boatload of money to the Tampa Bay Times.

Also still up in the air in regards to any development at the Trop site is what will happen to the possible graves ground penetrating radar discovered there over the summer. Kriseman deferred the question to a spokesperson who told CL they'd get details over as soon as possible. The spokesperson also said they may provide a statement regarding other calls to flat out return the land at the Trop site to families upended as a result of the demolition of the Gas Plant district.

Rev. Haynes II, President of the Pinellas County Urban League, said that Midtown participated in "the most dangerous interrogation" in its interviews with his 40-year-old organization. In a statement sent after the press conference, Haynes said, Midtown "impressed us from the start, even with the way they approached us for a partnership on this project. Rather than showing us their vision for the redevelopment of the site, they asked us to build that vision with them.”

Haynes added that his group is ready to take the next step in the process and that he expects not just the community, but other groups not selected by Kriseman to come to the table as the process moves along.

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About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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