Will the city make good on a 30-year promise?

BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Thirty years ago, the land where Tropicana Field sits now was the bustling Gas Plant district. Predominately black, it was full of African-American businesses, churches, schools and history.

Under the guise of building an industrial park that would bring jobs to the community and affordable housing, the area was razed and the baseball stadium was erected. Sixty-five percent of black business were either closed or relocated and generations of families were displaced.

Now the city has a chance to make good on a promise that was reneged on long ago. With public development meetings being held and Mayor Rick Kriseman asking for input, maybe the almost 40-year-old promise to the black community will be upheld.

During the second Tropicana Field redevelopment meeting held at Campbell Park Tuesday evening, the mayor encouraged members of the community to share their thoughts and desires on what they’d like to see done in the redevelopment of the 85 acres Tropicana Field occupies.

Whether it’s a city park, middle class or affordable housing or even a space where jobs can be created, it is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for the people of St. Pete, he said.

For what he called phase one of this project, Kriseman told community members to consider the “70 acres or so” around the baseball stadium for redevelopment. If the Rays decide to leave Tropicana Field—which the mayor hopes will not happen—then the full 85 acres can be considered for redevelopment, he said. Tropicana Field has been home to the Tampa Bay Rays since 1998.

Kriseman hopes that Baseball Forever campaign—an initiative of the City of St. Pete, the St. Pete Area Chamber of Commerce and the city’s residents—will keep the Tropicana Field site as the “forever home” of the Rays. The mayor encouraged everyone to attend Baseball Forever night at Tropicana on Aug. 19 to show support.

Modern stadiums are on sites that are active 365 days a year, Kriseman said, as the idea of a baseball park plopped in the middle of a huge desert of asphalt parking spaces is now obsolete.

“We want activity at that site whether there’s baseball going on or not going on,” Kriseman said. “That’s why we have this incredible opportunity to potentially keep the team on the site and still redevelop the 70 acres all around the stadium.”

Yvonne Garth, president of Garth Solutions, which is assisting with public outreach efforts, said “it’s a clean slate” at this stage without concrete concepts or drawings, and encouraged community members to visualize what they want see on the site.

“This is your city, this is your project,” said Julie Hiromoto, vice president at HKS, Inc. architecture firm and the manager of the redevelopment project. “Think of us as a pencil. We’re the tool that’s going to put shape to your ideas.”

The focus for the summer, Hiromoto said, is arriving at a concept-level master plan. This begins with an analysis phase, which includes data gathering, listening and pulling together all the information.

Phase two is the exploration phase, in which the strategies and concepts materialize to meet the visualized goals. Documenting the concept master plan is the final phase, or putting together a report that memorializes the work accomplished to that point.

The strategies will be different depending on whether the Rays decide to stay or leave, she said.

Architect Randy Morton pointed out that architects design not only buildings but collections of buildings which include street patterns, park systems and forms of entertainment.

“That’s what we’re going to be trying to do here,” he said, adding that since arts are an important part of the community, incorporating them into the project will be key.

Retail integrates everything, he also noted, explaining that a string of stores, shops and restaurant could also be a key ingredient for the project. Ballparks these days are much more than sports venues, he said, they are community venues and a more open and accessible building is important.

“When there’s not a game,” Morton said, “it has to work like a local neighborhood place.”

Jordan Park resident Delores Fletcher said she would love to see different levels of activities go on in one location, but her main concern is that the black community benefit from the development.

“I’m very hopeful that there will be a minority business inclusion fund established that the Rays have to pay into. The African-American community was moved out of here so that this thing could go up, so we have a responsible to those people to make sure that we got black business inclusion,” she said.

Midtown developer Larry Newsome expressed the need for a plan that would connect Midtown development with this project.

“We’re spending a billion dollars; we need to spend a couple of hundred million dollars on Midtown to transform it so it’s a different community, otherwise you will have the same issues and same problems that you have now,” he warned.

Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil aims to make sure residents of Midtown have a say. He said he’s taking it upon himself to bring people together with economic development experience and historical perspective to help synthesize information and come up with plan.

Questions, comments and concerned can be submitted via email to tropicanafield@garthsolutions.com or by phone at 800-317-8449. The latest information on the project will also be posted on stpete.org.

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