NewsPinellas County


St. Pete to begin meeting with community about future of Tropicana site

The first of three community meetings is set for Tuesday night at 5:30 p.m.
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Posted at 8:01 AM, Jul 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-12 08:01:04-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — His childhood home, long gone, stood where third base is now. He swam in Booker Creek. He climbed the namesake gas tanks.

Rev. Watson Haynes — the President and CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League — has fond memories of St. Petersburg’s historic Gas Plant District, which is now the home of the Tampa Bay Rays and Tropicana Field.

“That area — the gas plant area — was not what people like to refer to as a group of poor people — poor African Americans who got moved out,” he remembered. “It was people who saw an opportunity, people who were leaders, and they had an opportunity to live there and create the village that it was.”

That personal connection to the Tropicana Field site is why Haynes said it’s critically important for the city to be successful when leaders brainstorm and ultimately select a plan to redevelop the district.

Up until two weeks ago, the city was considering two plans, but Mayor Ken Welch decided to hit the reset button.

“Our environment has changed in many ways since the initial [Request for Proposal (RFP)] was issued in July of 2020,” he said in a news conference outside the ballpark.

Going forward, Welch said he wants more “certainty” and collaboration from the Rays, whose lease of Tropicana Field expires in 2027.

Additionally, in a post-pandemic world, he wants a plan that balances the diminished need for office space versus the increased need for more affordable housing, racial equity, and benefits like jobs.

He also wants more input from community members that may not have had a chance to be as engaged during the previous RFP process, which happened in an early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city will host three community feedback sessions starting Tuesday night. All meetings will be held from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Tuesday, July 12 at the Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete, located in the Lakeview Shopping Center at 2333 34th St. South
  • Tuesday, July 19 at the St. Petersburg College-Gibbs campus at 6605 5th Ave. North
  • Thursday, July 28 at USF St. Pete at 140 7th Ave. South

You can RSVP here. The city is also accepting online comments at this link.

Haynes, meanwhile, hopes community members will offer their visions for the Tropicana Field site.

“We’ve got to figure out how to make all those pieces fit together like a puzzle,” Haynes said. “We’re looking for the people to have an opportunity to say, ‘This is where I used to live or my grandma used to live and all, and I’m really proud of what I see — what I feel.’ Because it was a community, and so, that’s what we want.”

Previously, Haynes and the Urban League gave their stamp of approval and partnership to the Midtown Development plan, which was one to one of the two proposals on the table until Welch scrapped them. Now, as the mayor prepares to launch a new RFP in August, Haynes is keeping an open mind.

“We’re fairly reserved and are going to be looking hard at what other new things — what can be derived from this stopped process,” he said.

Ultimately, he hopes the new process yields a development that honors the city’s past and creates a better future.

Mayor Welch said he plans to pick a developer for the site by the end of the year.