BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – After careful consideration and extensive communication with city staff regarding the city’s needs, current economic trends, and changing workforce needs, Mayor Ken Welch announced on June 29 that the city is canceling the Request for Proposal issued two years ago and launching a new RFP process.
“I think it is providential that 40 years after a community was uprooted in the successful pursuit of baseball,” Welch said at a press conference, “we now have the opportunity to bring the promises of jobs and equitable development to fruition on what I believe, and many people believe, to be sacred land.”
The mayor said he is impressed by the efforts of the two finalists in the current RFP process — Sugar Hill Community Partners and Midtown Development — who have listened to the community and have responded with “their vision of development on these 86 acres,” the mayor said.
“However, our environment has changed in many ways since the initial RFP was issued in July of 2020,” Welch said, “and we must ensure that the RFP meets our current environment and realities and incorporates the most up-to-date information.”
The pandemic affected the potential need for office space and the cost of rental housing, and home ownership has skyrocketed, he explained, bringing a higher priority to the need for affordable and workforce housing both onsite and offsite.
The Gas Plant neighborhood was filled with homes, churches, businesses, a library, a theater, schools, playgrounds, and cemeteries.
Supply chain and labor issues are impacting the cost of capital projects, and there continues to be a need for intentional equity and equitable development, highlighted by the city’s Disparity Study and the Structural Racism report, which were completed after the issuance of the RFP. Also, the community’s desire for equity is reflected in the Community Benefits model adopted by the city council last year.
Welch will hold more community conversations to get further input from residents, as the previous discussions and presentations were limited due to the pandemic.
“Significant progress is being made with our partners toward developing the right model for the historic Gas Plant area redevelopment focused on inclusive progress for our entire city,” Welch said.
The city hopes to select a new proposal before the year ends, and the Sugar Hill and Midtown groups are encouraged to resubmit proposals.
“I’ve instructed my staff to target the release of a new RFP by mid-August, with the selection of a master developer by the end of this year,” the mayor said.
Welch could not say with certainty if the Tampa Bay Rays, who call Tropicana Field home, will be involved in the redevelopment process or if the project will include a stadium at all. The Rays, under their current agreement with the city, will play at Tropicana through the 2027 season. The mayor called this a generational project and said that it shouldn’t be rushed at the last minute after decades of debating and planning.
“A few more months is a relatively short time to make sure that we are choosing the right path,” he said.
The future of the Rays has been a big question mark for years now, with various proposals including moving across the Bay to Tampa, relocating to a new downtown St. Pete waterfront stadium, and even splitting their home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal.
Still, Welch remains hopeful for the future of the project.
“The Rays stadium question has to be answered,” he said, “and the partnership with the Rays has to be rebuilt. This is the community’s vision for 86 acres, and the Rays’ vision has to work with that. I’m very optimistic that it can. We’ve had very productive conversations, so we feel a new RFP is what we need to do right now to set our path straight, and we can get that done this year,” he said.
Mayor Welch has instructed staff to target the new RFP release for August. The city will also hold community outreach events as the RFP is developed and through the decision-making process once the RFP has been issued.
They will also be soliciting feedback online. A form to provide input is available on the city’s website at stpete.org/gasplant, where you can also follow the redevelopment process.
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