Hines and the Rays is working hard to engage the community, making residents and descendants of the Gas Plant and Laurel Park neighborhoods a top priority.
BY NICOLE SLAUGHTER GRAHAM, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — As the city awaits Mayor Ken Welch’s decision on which of the four RFPs will be chosen for the Historic Gas Plant District Redevelopment, one developer, Hines and the Rays, is working hard to engage the community.
The global real estate investment, development and property manager partnered with the Tampa Bay Rays on the RFP, and together, the team has made it clear that bringing into the fold residents and descendants of the Gas Plant and Laurel Park neighborhoods is a top priority.
The reason? Hines and the Rays believe that those displaced because of the building of Tropicana Field should have a say in the site’s future.
In a press release, Hines and the Rays defined a “development proposal [that] features more than 5,700 multifamily units, 1.4 million square feet of office, 300,000 square feet of retail, 700 hotel rooms, 600 senior living residences, a 2,500-person entertainment venue, and various civic uses. Hines and the Rays have embraced and incorporated the City of St. Petersburg’s goals of honoring the Historic Gas Plant District legacy and creating St. Petersburg’s next great place to live, work, and play.”
Community activist and local historian Gwendolyn Reese joined the Hines and the Rays team. A former Gas Plant resident, Reese, said that partnership is the way forward in honoring the history of the historic district and creating an equitable future.
Hines and the Rays seek to listen and collaborate with local groups, community leaders, and, most of all, residents and descendants of the Gas Plant and Laurel Park neighborhoods.
Reese is helping facilitate intimate gatherings with the two neighborhoods’ former residents and descendants and the redevelopment team. These gatherings — some of which will be held virtually and others in person — give community members a chance to remember and reminisce.
“I want the community to know how important it is to our team that we engage the former residents and their descendants. That is a top priority for us,” Reese says.
The inaugural gathering held in November gave Gas Plant and Laurel Park residents and their descendants a chance to hear from Hines and Rays team members about redevelopment plans. The dinner also offered an opportunity for residents and descendants to share their stories and reminisce with one another — a vital step in promoting community healing and restoration, which has been a top priority for Reese since the 2021 Gas Plant and Laurel Park reunion. Also important, said Reese, the gathering gave members of the Hines and Rays teams the opportunity to listen.
“This was the first of such gatherings,” revealed Reese. “There will be many other opportunities for more former residents and descendants of the historic districts to attend.”
She noted that each gathering would include a small number of participants. This is done intentionally and with purpose to foster authentic and comfortable conversation and to ensure that every voice is heard.
To Reese’s knowledge, Hines and the Rays are the only team who submitted an RFP that has been actively engaging the former residents and descendants of historic neighborhoods.
“We want the community to know that they have a stake in the project and that their voice is important,” said De Anna Sheffield Ward, vice president of media and communications for the Tampa Bay Rays. “The mayor said that this is the redevelopment of the Historic Gas Plant District. We believe that you can’t redevelop something if you don’t know its history — if you haven’t had a chance to have a conversation with those who were affected and will be affected.”
Sheffield Ward also noted that having Reese on the team was vital. As a former resident of the Gas Plant District, Reese plays a crucial role in fostering trust within the community and ensuring the voices of Gas Plant and Laurel Park neighborhoods are elevated.
Hines and the Rays want the community to know that input from Gas Plant and Laurel Park’s former residents and descendants will be sought at all stages of the planning process.
There are two upcoming events that Hines and the Rays want the community to be aware of and attend. The first is a presentation hosted by the City of St. Petersburg for the community. This free, public event will be held at the Coliseum on Wednesday, Jan. 4, from 6-9 p.m.
The city seeks community feedback and will offer the option to attend in-person or online. Registration is required, and community members can register at this link.
The second event is a virtual gathering — the second of many events aimed at engaging residents and descendants of the Gas Plant and Laurel Park neighborhoods. It is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 12, at 6 p.m. and will take place via Zoom, with Reese will facilitating the conversation.
Registration is required. Residents and descendants of the Gas Plant and Laurel Park neighborhoods can register here.
“We are interested in hearing from the people who lived, worked, played, and died in the Laurel Park and Gas Plant neighborhoods,” Reese stated. “We want to hear from people who owned businesses, went to school and worshipped in the Gas Plant district. If you know someone, share this with them. We want to reach as many of the people as possible.”
Community members can also learn more about the RFP submitted by Hines and the Rays on the City of St. Petersburg’s website.