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St. Pete faith leaders make their voices heard on Tropicana Field redevelopment project

Group would like to see Sugar Hill proposal chosen
St. Pete faith leaders make their voices heard on Tropicana Field redevelopment project
Posted at 5:33 PM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-20 06:16:20-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.  — Nearly a dozen African American faith leaders in St. Pete are making their voices heard and urging city leaders to make good on old promises. They want to ensure the redevelopment of Tropicana Field honors the history of the site and helps the community thrive.

On Thursday, the faith leaders announced they are supporting the Sugar Hill development proposal for the redevelopment of Tropicana Field.

The proposal would feature anywhere between 2,500 and over 3,000 affordable and workforce housing units, the larger amount would be if the development does not contain a baseball stadium. The proposal would also call for a pedestrian bridge to connect communities on both sides of the interstate.

Sugar Hill’s plan also calls for a history walk between downtown St. Pete and South St. Petersburg featuring the work of African American artists, plaques telling of the land’s history and other features.

St. Pete faith leaders make their voices heard on Tropicana Field redevelopment project

The land where Tropicana Field was built was once home to a thriving African American community known as St. Pete’s Gas Plant district.

Dr. Wayne Thompson of First Baptist Institutional Church grew up on the site.

“We remember very fondly of some of the great and good days this town had and was known for because of the gas plant area,” he recalled.

City leaders later displaced the community to make way for a baseball stadium. Now, the St. Petersburg faith leaders want the city to make good on old promises by choosing a developer for the 86 acres around Tropicana Field that will prioritize affordable housing, promote black businesses and honor the land’s history.

Manuel Sykes of Bethel Community Baptist Church said that is essential.

“If something is not done, there will be a total eradication of the present and history of African Americans in this spot,” he said.

The faith leaders are endorsing Sugar Hill’s proposal from JMA Ventures based out of California and said it’s the best option that provides opportunity and equity for all, with twice as many affordable units on the Trop site as the other proposal from Midtown Development.

“We believe this is best," Greater Mount Zion AME Church's Clarence Williams said. "Not only for our city but for our people."

The faith community’s pick is different than the one former Mayor Rick Kriseman chose as his top pick just 34 days before leaving office. Kriseman favored Midtown Development.

In the end, it will be up to current Mayor Ken Welch to choose the proposal of his liking. He sent ABC Action News a statement saying: “We appreciate and share the community’s passion for this vital generational project. My evaluation process continues and out city staff continues their due diligence. We will adhere to our procurement protocol until a decision is made.

Both of the plans in the final selection will feature the site with and without a baseball stadium since the Rays’ future remains uncertain.

Midtown’s development proposal would include 1,200 to 1,600 affordable and workforce housing units, office space and a removal of the interstate ramp to make room for more than 3 million square feet of indoor and outdoor space. Their proposal also calls for extending the Heritage Trail with a detailed history of the land. Watson Hayes of the Pinellas County Urban League has been part of the Midtown team and helping to develop a plan that would include honoring the site’s history and significance of the African American community that once called the land home.

Current St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch is expected to make his announcement on the next steps for Tropicana Field June 30.