Joe Henderson: St. Pete needs some giddy-up in Trop site redevelopment plans


Um, St. Petersburg?

It’s great that you want to redevelop the drab and depressing 17.3-acre plot of land that includes Tropicana Field. It needs something more reflective of the city’s rich heritage combined with its dynamic future.

Go get ‘em.

But, here’s the thing, you need to pick up the pace.

About two months ago, Mayor Ken Welch announced the city had reopened bidding for proposals about that massive project. Welch said any proposal had to include a carve-out for a baseball stadium, presumably the future home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

He also said bidders should submit a plan without a stadium.

Welch said the site also had to honor St. Pete’s historic Gas Plant community, which the city sacrificed nearly four decades ago in its rush to get the Trop built. Bravo to that. Looking to the future by trying to correct an ill-conceived move from the past is smart thinking.

“The site also must effectively recognize, honor, and support the community displaced due to construction of the original stadium, in an impactful and sustainable manner,” the Mayor said in a news release.

St. Pete has a chance to correct the injustice from all those years ago, turning the current site into something special.

However, the clock is running faster than the Mayor or city planners want to imagine.

Last Friday, Welch announced any proposal had to include plans for affordable and workforce housing. The Rays could be part of that future, or maybe not. That’s basically what he said two months ago.

It’s also two lost months in what has become an uncomfortably tight squeeze on both the city and the Rays if they have the will to get something done.

The deadline to submit proposals is Nov. 18, and Welch has said he wants to pick a developer by the end of the year.

“We’ve got plenty of time,” he said in June.

No, he doesn’t — especially when it comes to the Rays.

Even if everything goes like clockwork, which it won’t, it’s a daunting timeline to plan, finance and construct a new stadium before the Rays’ lease expires in 2027.

The argument over financing alone, assuming the Rays want to stay in St. Pete, could take at least a year. That’s not counting how long it will take to approve the stadium design, exact location, traffic and parking concerns, and so on.

Then they have to build the thing. The bid process alone on that will be painstaking.

St. Pete’s history on these large projects doesn’t show a lot of giddy-up. Remember how long it took for the city to replace its downtown Pier?

I’ll refresh your memory.

In 2004, the city decided it needed to replace its existing Pier.

Plans to do that started a year later, and eight years after that — no, the new Pier wasn’t ready — the existing Pier closed. When it looked like things were moving ahead, voters rejected one plan.

Bottom line: the new Pier didn’t open until slightly over two years ago. That’s 16 years after the city started talking about what to do.

The stadium and redevelopment dance is starting to feel like that.

Yes, the Rays share in the blame. They’ve never appeared to be in a hurry about this, and they too are on the clock.

I’ve never been a fan of building a new stadium in St. Pete, strictly because a location so far from the center of the market hurts the Rays’ attendance. But if they can share in the historic redevelopment of that area and get a stadium to boot, it makes a lot more financial sense than we might initially imagine.

But I wouldn’t count on the Rays sitting on their hands while committee after committee reviews and delays a final decision.

Baseball wants an answer quickly.

So does everyone else. Get with it, folks.

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