ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Will the current site of Tropicana Field become the home of a new Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium?
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 that he was abandoning two previous plans and resuming the process of redeveloping the downtown district.
“That’s why it’s called the historic gasworks district redevelopment,” Welch said, “Tropicana Field is just part of that.”
Mayor Welch grew up in the historic Gasworks District and his grandfather owned a lumber 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 would all benefit. It didn’t happen,” Welch said. “We basically have 85 acres of asphalt, so now we have a unique opportunity to deliver on those promises.”
Before city officials ask developers for new proposals in August, they are seeking feedback from the community.
“On 86 acres, I don’t think we should limit ourselves,” said the city’s public-private partnership manager Brian Caper.
After a presentation showing examples of economic development around baseball stadiums in cities like Atlanta, Baltimore and San Diego, each table in the room held its own round table.
“To me, a ballpark doesn’t matter to me,” John Berg of St. Pete said. “But I liked the ideas of how they can create a smaller park that’s a mixed-use area, an arena for concerts and festivals.”
As rents soar in St. Pete, Mayor Welch said the inclusion of affordable housing is a priority for the plan.
“One of the unique things is that the city currently owns the land,” Caper said. “So I think we have a critical role in negotiating that and making sure that’s reflected in the new development.”
Mayor Welch told News Channel 8 he thinks the city will do the right thing to keep Rays baseball in Sunshine City.
“The Rays were here tonight,” Mayor Welch said. “This conversation is ongoing. I believe we can put together a very powerful package and when you look at downtown St. Pete, that’s 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 enter into a new stadium deal.
After issuing the tender 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 Gasworks Historic District will take place July 19 at the St. Petersburg College-Gibbs Campus and July 28 at USF St. Pete.