St. Petersburg, Florida starts fresh to join national trend towards equitable urban revitalization based on affordable housing

As we’ve seen here in REVITALIZATION over the years, San Diego, California has gone through a long, on-again-off-again process of trying to redevelopment and revitalize their 43-acre Sports Arena. Doing so properly will also help revitalize nearby neighborhoods.

A very similar situation has been taking place in St. Petersburg, Florida with a sports-related project exactly twice the size of the one in San Diego: the 86-acre Tropicana Field redevelopment (which we’ve also been documenting in REVITALIZATION in recent years). Tropicana Field was itself the poorly-planned redevelopment of a huge brownfield caused by an old gasification plant.

Like San Diego, St. Pete—where I (Storm Cunningham) lived for 15 years—has had to withdraw their Request for Proposals (RFP) more than once. In both cases, the proposals didn’t fully address the needs of local residents.

Until recently, St. Pete what they thought was a winning approach, although many (including myself) thought it focused too heavily on office development. Commercial development can be significantly more profitable than residential development, but only in the right place at the right time.

The last thing most cities need these days is more office space. This glut was exacerbated by the COVID crisis, but was well underway even before that. In Arlington County, Virginia—where I live now—the Rosslyn downtown area has long suffered from a combination of bad planning and surplus office space, the latter caused in large part by the excessive influence of major real estate developers on the County Board.

As a result, St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch has wisely withdrawn the previous RFP and issued a new one: this time focusing on what the community really needs: affordable housing and inclusive, equitable neighborhood revitalization. He said “we determined the RFP resulting in a developer recommendation in late 2021 was outdated and did not adequately reflect current economic conditions, new workforce trends or comprehensive city needs.

Mayor Welch wen on “the Historic Gas Plant District (formally known as the Tropicana Field site) represents an opportunity unlike any other in the Southeast. The new Request for Proposal process will ensure intentional equity, vibrancy and economic vitality for years to come.

So, the City of St. Petersburg has now released an RFP for the redevelopment of the portion of the Historic Gas Plant site currently home to Tropicana Field and affiliated parking totaling approximately 86 acres.

The RFP calls for additional emphasis on equitable redevelopment, a 17.3-acre carve out for a baseball stadium, specific requirements for affordable and workforce housing and new details that respond to current economic and societal conditions and community sentiment.

This is an historic opportunity for our city to utilize a generational redevelopment opportunity to ensure equitable opportunity for all residents, visitors, businesses and stakeholders,” explained Welch.

With this new RFP we are calling for a significant emphasis on affordable and workforce housing; arts and culture; research, innovation, and education; recreation; open space, healthy and sustainable development; and intentional equity. We look forward to receiving and reviewing proposals as we prepare for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he added.

Nearly forty years ago, members of the Historic Gas Plant community were displaced by the ultimately successful pursuit of Major League Baseball and eventual construction of what is now Tropicana Field.

While the move brought the city the Tampa Bay Rays, then known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, residents and businesses were forced to relocate with the promise of jobs, opportunity and equitable development which did not materialize.

With this new RFP, the city now has the opportunity to fulfill those unrealized promises and bring to St. Petersburg new attainable housing, equitable business opportunities, office space, meeting space, open space and overall equitable and impactful economic development that benefits all.

In the wake of the COVID crisis and resulting economic impacts, St. Pete has experienced:

  • Increased housing costs for both ownership and rental opportunities;
  • Additional need for intentional equity and equitable development as highlighted in results from the city’s Disparity Study and Structural Racism Study;
  • New desire for equity reflected in the newly implemented Community Benefits Agreement model adopted by St. Petersburg City Council last year;
  • Changes to the way we work and the potential need for office space; and
  • Increased capital project costs resulting from supply chain and labor issues.

This RFP also calls for proposals that include accommodations for an integrated new, state-of-the-art baseball stadium, a shift from the previous RFP that included plans both with and without a stadium. Based on the community’s need for clarity on the question of the Tampa Bay Rays’ future in St. Petersburg, the city feels that it’s imperative that proposals provide certainty on the availability of space for Major League Baseball on the site for decades to come.

The City held several Community Conversations resulting in more than 1,000 engagements with residents and stakeholders, which laid out a clear vision for community goals and priorities for this site. The feedback received from those Community Conversations and on-going online engagement are reflected in the Twenty-Three Guiding Principles of Development and throughout this new RFP.

One of the biggest changes in this RFP as compared to the previous request issued in 2020 is a specific requirement for affordable and workforce housing.

Successful proposals will prioritize housing affordability, maximize the number of affordable and workforce units on site, and demonstrate significant positive impact for St. Petersburg residents. Innovative solutions to address the City’s housing goals and this site should include a mix of housing that addresses the needed supply for very-low income, low-income, moderate-income, and middle-income households.

Proposers are encouraged to look towards additional solutions, such as providing affordable and workforce units off-site; partnering with other entities to provide additional units off-site, including rental and ownership product; and/or making a financial contribution to the construction of affordable units citywide.

A competitive response to this RFP must include plans to accomplish the following new goals:

  • Inclusion of and connection to a state-of-the-art baseball stadium on 17.3 acres;
  • Further honoring the history and legacy of the Historic Gas Plant District site and fulfilling past promises;
  • Inclusion of principles and findings of the Structural Racism Study and Disparity Study;
  • MBE and WBE inclusion;
  • Adherence to Community Benefits Agreement principles;
  • Emphasis on affordable/workforce housing availability on- and off-site;
  • Acknowledgment of future mitigation requirements related to Oaklawn Cemetery;
  • Inclusion of guiding principles from results of the Community Conversations sessions and other community engagement efforts;
  • Acknowledgment of evolving workforce and office space demand;
  • Opportunities for local, under-invested businesses;
  • Flexibility for convention space tied to evolving demand;
  • Opportunities for shared parking for public and ballpark use; and
  • Adherence to connectivity guidelines as described in the Downtown Mobility Study.

A competitive response to this RFP must also include plans to accomplish the following goals consistent with the previous RFP:

  • Robust job creation opportunities;
  • St. Pete CRA resident priority hiring, both during construction and for post-development operations;
  • Mixed-use development;
  • Connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods;
  • Emphasizing Booker Creek as a potential water feature;
  • Activation of the Pinellas Trail within the site;
  • Emphasis on open space;
  • Opportunities for office, housing, retail and entertainment;
  • Smart City technology;
  • Health equity;
  • Healthy/sustainable building design;
  • Opportunities for SBEs, local small businesses, and historically under-invested businesses;
  • Adherence to the city’s Complete Streets plan and opportunities for multi-modal transit;
  • Inclusion of research, innovation and education opportunities and space; and
  • Significant opportunities for arts and culture.

Gas Plant District redevelopment represents a crucial opportunity to create an inclusive and equitable economic engine by utilizing intentional equity as a guiding principle.

Responses should also align with Mayor Welch’s Pillars for Progress and Principles for Accountable and Responsive Government.

Pillars for Progress:

  • Education and Youth Opportunities;
  • Equitable Development, Arts and Business Opportunities;
  • Neighborhood Health and Safety;
  • Housing Opportunities for All; and
  • Environment, Infrastructure and Resilience.

Principles for Accountable and Responsive Government:

  • In-touch: Our approach will be hands-on, active in the community and collaborative with constituents;
  • Inclusive: Everyone will have a seat at the table, every constituent will be heard, and every employee will be valued;
  • Innovative: We will embrace new technologies, new ideas, and creative partnerships to implement effective solutions and improve constituent services;
  • Informed: We will be guided by best practices, facts, science, and our city’s history;
  • Impactful: We will ask the question, “Will it improve the quality of life for the people of St. Petersburg?”; and
  • Intentional: We will incorporate equity into all policies to ensure our growth benefits the entire community.

All qualified proposals will be presented to Mayor Welch for consideration and selection based on criteria defined in the RFP. Mayor Welch may select a proposal without discussion if it is determined to be in the public interest for intended site use.

The tentative schedule for proposal consideration includes a pre-proposal meeting on September 12, 2022 to include an overview of the site and relevant planning efforts and brief presentations from City leadership regarding: the history of the site; equitable economic development; transportation; public works; environmental conditions; housing; sustainability; development services; private sector input; questions and answers; and site information.

The final day for proposer questions during the RFP process is November 14, 2022.
Proposers are invited to respond to this RFP as private developers or as part of a development team. Responses are due November 18, 2022 at 10:00am.

Read the entire RFP (PDF).

Read results of the Community Conversations (PDF).

Watch video message from Mayor Welch.

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