ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Will the current site of Tropicana Field become the home of a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark?
The City of St. Petersburg hosted the first of three community meetings Tuesday at the Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete after Mayor Ken Welch announced in late June he was scrapping two previous plans and restarting the process to redevelop the downtown district.
“That’s why its called the Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment,” Welch said, “Tropicana Field is just a part of that.”
Mayor Welch grew up in the Historic Gas Plant District and his grandfather owned a wood yard business there.
But four decades ago, the pursuit of a Tampa Bay baseball team uprooted hundreds of African American families.
“And the promises were for economic development, jobs and we all would benefit. That didn’t happen,” Welch said. “We have essentially 85 acres of asphalt, so now we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make those promises come to fruition.”
Before city officials request new proposals from developers in August, they are seeking input from the community.
“At 86 acres, I don’t think we need to limit ourselves,” the city’s manager for public-private partnerships Brian Caper said.
After a presentation showing examples of economic development around ballparks in cities such as Atlanta, Baltimore and San Diego, each table in the room held its own roundtable discussion.
“For me, a ballpark is nothing of importance to me,” John Berg of St. Pete said. “But I did like the ideas of how they’re able to make a smaller park that is a mixed use zone, an arena for concerts and festivals.”
With rents skyrocketing in St. Pete, Mayor Welch has said including affordable housing is a priority for the plan.
“One of the unique things is the city currently owns the land,” Caper said. “So I think we have a critical role in negotiating that and making sure its reflected in the new development.”
Mayor Welch told News Channel 8 he believes the city will make the right pitch to keep Rays baseball in the Sunshine City.
“The Rays were here tonight,” Mayor Welch said. “That conversation is ongoing. I believe we can put together a very powerful package and when you look at downtown St. Pete, its the place to be right now.”
The Rays lease at Tropicana Field ends after the 2027 season. Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred recently said the “time has come” for the Rays to reach a new stadium deal.
After issuing the RFP in August, the mayor said he hoped to select the developer by the end of this year or early 2023.
The next two meetings on the redevelopment of the Historic Gas Plant District are July 19 at the St. Petersburg College-Gibbs campus and July 28 at USF St. Pete.