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Council to consider Trop vision

If council members approve, developers get a request for proposals.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 15, 2008


In the draft request, city officials propose a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development with an affordable housing component, unique retails options and park space. It is similar to the Tampa Bay Rays' vision.

Special Report: Ballpark by the bay

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[James Borchuck | Times]
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ST. PETERSBURG - The city's vision for Tropicana Field mimics what the Tampa Bay Rays had in mind for the 86-acre-site - an urban village highlighted by unique retail, new parkland and hundreds of new residences.

In a draft request to developers being circulated to City Council members this week, top city officials lay out what they believe the land under the domed baseball stadium could become.

The proposal includes adding a mix of market-rate and affordable housing, reconnecting the street grids swallowed by Tropicana Field's parking lots, complementing the shopping options available downtown and linking the development to the new baseball stadium proposed at Al Lang Field.

It does not include a specific asking price to purchase the property but does seek a financial guarantee that the developer builds what it promises.

The city's concept, which is contingent on regulatory and eventually voter approvals, will be considered formally Thursday by the City Council.

If council members sign off on the plan, called a request for proposals, it will then be forwarded to developers nationwide.

Such a process is routine for governments. But rarely is so much at stake.

City officials on Thursday downplayed any suggestion that their vision for the site matches what the Rays and their partner developer, Hines, unveiled for the property in November.

The Rays and Hines have been working on a development program since at least the summer, while other developers began researching the opportunity just last month.

"Those are industry terms that are typical of the type of development that we're looking for," Kevin Dunn, the managing director of the city development administration, said about the similarities in language. "We did not take what the Rays put on the street and tried to replicate it.

"In fact, we hope someone else comes up with new ideas."

The city request is light on specifics, but it clearly was written with the intention of weeding out mid-level development interests. The city says it is looking for a developer who has already completed at least two urban projects, each having a value of $500-million or more. The St. Petersburg retail complex BayWalk cost $40-million to build by comparison. Signature Place, the 366-foot-tower being built near Al Lang Field, will cost $165-million.

The city is also requiring developers provide detailed financial information. The money is important because much of it would help finance the construction of the Rays' new $450-million waterfront stadium, according to the team's plan.

If the council agrees to proceed, the request for proposals would be issued Friday with the deadline to respond March 18.

It's too fast for many skeptics.

Though the mayor and council would have to agree for the process to move forward, as would the Pinellas County Commission and St. Petersburg voters, some critics say they believe the timetable gives the appearance that the massive downtown redevelopment is all but certain.

"The feeling of frustration and anger is based on the whole process itself," said Lorraine Margeson, a St. Petersburg resident opposing the stadium plan.

Margeson said the cloud of secret negotiations surrounding a new baseball stadium has irreparably damaged the discussion. "It has been done in a wrong manner from the get-go," she said.

City Council Chairman Jamie Bennett said he understands the argument. He's just not sure he agrees with it. Bennett said he believes there will be enough time to evaluate the questions unanswered about the stadium plan, from environmental impacts to parking concerns, before a November referendum.

But the city must first determine if that discussion is even needed, since the Tropicana site is the financial linchpin of the entire deal.

"I'm not sure we can allay the perception (of moving too fast) amongst certain members of the community," Bennett said. "But there's an equal number of people as far as I can tell that want to proceed. It's not fair to just dismiss this before the numbers are in."

The City Council will discuss the request for proposals for Tropicana Field first at a 10 a.m. work session, then at a 3 p.m. council meeting Thursday at City Hall. City officials say the public will not be able to speak at either meeting.

Fast facts

What St. Petersburg wants for the Trop

- A cash offer.

- Financial guarantees development occurs.

- A developer who has finished two urban projects, each having a value of more than $500-million.

- A mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development with an affordable housing component, unique retails options and park space.

[Last modified January 14, 2008, 23:16:05]


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