Council mixed response to Rays Gas Plant plans


Tampa Bay stadium update May 2024 Image: Tampa Bay Rays and Hines

A nine-hour discussion ensued recently as the St. Petersburg (Florida, US) City Council members meticulously combed through the Major League Baseball (MLB) team Tampa Bay Rays and their proposed Gas Plant Stadium developer Hines 183-page development agreement for the Historic Gas Plant District.

‘ST. PETE RISING’ stated that it took over a decade and countless hours of negotiations to reach this milestone conversation about the $6.5 billion development that will transform 86 acres in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg into an eight-million-square-foot mixed-use district anchored by a new ballpark – becoming the largest project to ever commence in Tampa Bay, Florida.

If ultimately approved, the new 30,000-seat enclosed stadium will open in 2028 as part of the first phase of the 30-year planned development.

The Tampa Bay Rays are an American professional baseball team based in the Tampa Bay area, Florida. The Rays compete in Major League Baseball as a member club of the American League East Division.

Tampa Bay stadium update May 2024Image: Tampa Bay Rays and Hines

The 42,735-capacity Tropicana Field is a multipurpose domed stadium located in St. Petersburg, Florida, United States. The stadium has been the ballpark of the Tampa Bay Rays of Major League Baseball (MLB) since the team’s inaugural season in 1998.

The Gas Plant Stadium is a proposed indoor ballpark in St. Petersburg, Florida (US). If approved and constructed, it would serve as the home of the Tampa Bay Rays of Major League Baseball (MLB). The construction cost is estimated to be $1.3 billion and the total cost to public will be $1.5 billion.

The proposed Gas Plant Stadium Plans call for a 30,000-seat “pavilion-style” stadium, which would include three seating levels and walls that open to let fresh air inside during cooler weather.

The Rays have a lease on their current home at Tropicana Field until 2027.

Tampa Bay stadium update May 2024Image: Tampa Bay Rays and Hines

Houston (US)-based Hines is a privately-owned global real estate investment, development and management firm founded in 1957 with a presence in 384 Cities in 30 countries and $93.2 billion of assets under management and more than 109 million square feet of assets for which Hines provides third-party property-level services.

The Historic Gas Plant District project in Florida is about much more than a ballpark – it’s the creation of a vibrant neighborhood with a ballpark at its heart. Through thoughtful, inclusive processes and intentional equity plan, it provides the opportunity to generate ongoing benefits for the community of South St. Petersburg.

‘ST. PETE RISING’ further stated that newly released renderings show a central plaza of restaurants, bars and retail surrounding the stadium East of the reimagined Booker Creek (apartment complex in St. Petersburg, Florida).

It also revealed an activated 16th Street South corridor that’s been long neglected, pointed out Council Member Copley Gerdes, who supports the deal.

One notable piece of the drafted agreement for the project promises economic prosperity with a $50 million intentional equity initiative, which Councilwoman Lisset Hanewicz recommended should be paid upfront.

Tampa Bay stadium update May 2024Image: Tampa Bay Rays and Hines

The $50 million benefits package covers the hiring of minority workers, the creation of a workforce training program and a $10 million contribution to the new Woodson African American Museum of Florida.

The Rays and Hines also promise to deliver 1,250 affordable housing units out of the 5,400 total residential units, 1.4 million square feet of Class A office and medical space, 750,000 square feet of retail space, and much more.

Rays President Brian Auld said during the Council meeting, acting as the Committee of the Whole, “This agreement is how we make sure that the fan base we have cultivated for so long, that same fan base is only now seeing children born to parents who grew up as the Rays fans. This is how they keep their teams.”

However, skepticism emerged from the Council members as the crafted agreement language blurred the lines on certain financial responsibilities of the project and potential loopholes.

Councilman Richie Floyd, one of the first officials to kick off the rounds of the probing questioning, drew specific concerns on the affordable housing component as the City Council may still have to dip into their coffers to cover funding gaps for the affordable housing projects.

The Hines-Rays team confirmed that it may be a possibility as the units would be built without additional subsidies from the City and the local Governments.

Remarked Floyd, “That’s frustrating because it seems like this deal guarantees affordable housing, but from what I’m hearing, that is not the case.”

Per the language in the agreement, the developers would face a few penalties if they fail to fulfill the affordable housing inventory they promise to deliver.

Hanewicz also raised her own concerns – pointing out how the agreement allows the Rays and Hines to transfer developer rights to another party not vetted by the City Council.

The agreement also lists the Rays Owner Stu Sternberg as the Rays affiliate, acknowledging him as a developer under the drafted agreement.

If Sternberg sold the team, he could remain involved, according to Attorney Peter Berrie, the outside counsel serving the City.

Hanewicz also questioned why the City would pick up the tab in covering $142 million for infrastructure if the Hines and the Rays could sell the land, which a Rays-Hines representative said they don’t intend to.

Administrator Rob Gerdes clarified that it is common practice for the City to take on the infrastructure costs for significant redevelopment projects.

Maintained Hanewicz, “I cannot emphasize enough the huge risk this presents given the level of investment, the hundreds of millions of dollars provided by the City and the county … and we have no termination rights. The City is not realizing the value of the land upfront even at the huge discount rate and is subject to market risks since [the developers] can pick and choose which parcels they purchase. The transfer provisions have to be limited. The City Council should be in control.”

“I think we’re in a pretty good place right now,” Council Member Gina Driscoll said after the meeting despite the debate and looming questions.

Council Member Brandi Gabbard also applauded the Rays and Hines team for the work that went into crafting the agreement, but would like to see the team secure a grocer to serve the thousands of residents that will live within the envisioned district.

What happens now?

At the request of the Mayor of St. Petersburg Ken Welch, a workshop meeting solely centered on the stadium agreement, scheduled for May 23rd, has been postponed.

The Rays-Hines team is expected to make adjustments to the language in the agreement and present it in a second meeting, which will now take place in June.

Official votes are tentatively expected in June or July, but may be pushed if negotiations are still underway.

Costs recap

The plan calls for the City of St. Petersburg to spend $417.5 million.

The figure includes $287.5 million for the ballpark and $130 million in infrastructure for the redevelopment.

The Pinellas County would fund roughly $312.5 million for its share of the ballpark costs.

The Rays have committed to pay $700 million and any cost overruns for the ballpark.

The City’s budgeting and finance team said the City is financially well-positioned in its general fund in comparison to the peer Cities.

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