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Tropicana Field site redevelopment plan comparison

More plans! There are 4 of them this time, here’s how they differ.

Sugar Hill proposal

The Rays released elements of their proposal for the Tropicana Field site, which we covered here and here, last weekend.

We had mentioned at that time that the Rays (along with their development partners) were one of four proposals. Now we have additional information on the other three. You can read about the proposals, and find links to the full submissions, at St. Pete Catalyst and the Tampa Bay Times. To not duplicate those efforts, we will focus on the differences between the four proposals in this article.

Said another way — as opposed to proposal basics, which are covered in the other publications — here we are pulling out a few key themes and sharing our thoughts on how each proposal addresses them.

For those of you only interested in stadium stuff, you will be disappointed! We’ll focus on the various stadium plans in a different post.

RFP responses are lengthy, demonstrating vision, style, and community support above and beyond the details that many would get animated about, such as specific stadium renderings or redevelopment financing plans. Instead these RFP responses, which range from 150 to 300 pages, illustrate an approach to redevelopment and an overall plan or structured approach, while leaving the nitty gritty to later in the process.

The city does not have a formal grading system for these proposals, but their RFP criteria did emphasize a few critical elements: housing/affordable housing provision, community benefits, and the inclusion of minority-owned businesses as key features.

Here we will review the competing partnerships, their approach to housing and community benefits, and their financial “asks” as best as we can tell after the plans were released Monday afternoon.

Sugar Hill Community Partners

The partners

All four of the proposals have a long list of partners, including multiple architects and engineers but also housing firms, cultural and environmental consultants. Here we focus on the major partners as well as some of the local connections.

Sugar Hill Community Partners (“Sugar Hill”), which is a partnership of Machete Group and JMA Ventures, has a number of local partners. To address the affordable housing component of the project, Sugar Hill partners with the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, Habitat for Humanity (which provides affordable for-sale housing) and Blue Sky Communities, which has a large portfolio of for-rent affordable housing across Florida. There is also a very long list of local businesses and cultural leaders whose roles are less clear.

Gas Plant District Restoration Associates (“GPD-RA”) is a team assembled to address this RFP, with four key partners. One is the Onycx Group, which is the development arm of Kiran Patel, Tampa doctor turned developer/philanthropist. Another partner is Steve Freedman, owner of a furniture store and self-storage business, whose function here was unclear to us until we read the proposal (see below). Invictus Communities is responsible for housing; they have undertaken affordable and mixed use development in various Florida communities. In contrast to the other proposals, this group does not seem to have identified local St. Petersburg partners, or highlighted the inclusion of minority-owned businesses.

50 Plus 1 Sports (“50+1”), a Coral Gables based firm, is the primary partner for this submission. They also list a number of professionals, including Garcia Architects and the architecture/engineering firm AECOM as part of their development team. They don’t have a lot of local (Tampa Bay) leadership but they do note that the developer and other professional partners are largely minority-owned businesses.

Tampa Bay Rays (“Rays/Hines”) development partnership was discussed here, but the full proposal also makes clear they are working with additional organizations. Dantes Partners, a Washington DC-based affordable housing firm, will be part of their team, as will the planning firm Kimley-Horn. Tampa Bay Watch is listed as an environmental consultant also expected to open an environmental center on the site. Local historian/former Gas Plant resident Gwendolyn Reese, and former Tampa Bay Times editorials editor Tom Nickens are both listed as consultants.

50+1 features mosaic glass over the parks and the ballpark

Housing component

All four projects anticipate building thousands of units of housing, primarily multifamily housing. Where they differ in in their assumptions about how much of that housing would be reserved for those with limited incomes, and how much of the affordable housing would be built offsite (We don’t believe available sites have actually been identified for this additional housing, but the RFP did reference offsite housing as one of elements that would be considered).

Sugar Hill proposes 5,231 units, 325 of which will be offsite and claims that a full 50% will be affordable, targeted to those earning between 30-120% of the area’s median income (approximately $22,170-$88,680 for a family of three).

GPD-RA is a little vague about housing production. They say they will create 2,800-3,800 units of “attainable” housing, but there are only clear plans and financial details for 1000 units of housing serving that 30-120% of area median income group. There is no discussion whether any of these would be built offsite.

50 + 1 will build 6800 housing units, and says 50% will be affordable but without defining that term. They discuss building housing onsite and also building or supporting housing that will be built near their site, so presumably some portion of those units will be built elsewhere. Theirs is the only proposal that does not include an affordable housing partner, nor are they clear about potential sources of housing subsidy.

Rays/Hines propose 5,700 housing units. 23% of these, they say, will be affordable, including 800 built onsite and 600 offsite. They do not provide an income range for their affordable units, but we assume it is similar to those noted above. The Rays/Hines proposal has the smallest share of restricted affordable housing units, and the most affordable units to be built offsite. They are also including housing support in their community benefits (see below)

Community benefits

Sugar Hill proposes a $30 million Community Equity Endowment, to be seeded by the developers and then to benefit from additional proceeds of the development. The funds will be divided between provision of additional affordable housing opportunities, support for small businesses, and for other uses determined by a community board. They also plan to contribute smaller amounts to other local initiatives.

GPD-RA does not have an explicit community benefits plan.

50 + 1 proposes a $10 million job training grant. The proposal also creates a plan whereby the city leases them some of the property for free, and they then have a revenue sharing agreement in lieu of ground rent. They estimate the value of this revenue ($700 million over 20 years) and consider that a “community benefit”. That seems like an odd way to frame this – if they simply paid fair market value for buying or leasing the land we would not call that a “community benefit” and they are proposing this revenue sharing payment in lieu of paying for the land. Because their proposal omits financial data it is unclear how they arrive at their estimates of the revenue this plan would generate.

Rays/Hines proposal includes several pages of community benefit programs and investments in the areas of affordable housing, education and employment funds. Just eyeballing the list we see about $60 million in community benefits programs outlined. The creation of cultural amenities can be seen as another community benefit.

Restoration Associates suggests building a parking garage over I-175.

Subsidy assumptions

Keep in mind that the financial sections of these proposals refer to overall development, and do not include detailed plans to finance the stadium — nor would it be expected or industry standard practice for an RFP response to have details on how to finance a stadium.

Sugar Hill envisions the creation of a community development district with tax increment financing to support development – it looks to us like they are assuming about $300 million through these sources. They also assume subsidies for affordable housing through a state subsidy program and federal tax credits. They also propose a conference center that would require a $39 million subsidy (which they note could come from county hotel taxes).

GPD-RA assumes they would seek some funds from hotel taxes, plus state or federal subsidy dollars for affordable housing development. There is also vague mention of attracting federal funds for a planned intermodal transportation center and research and development park.

50 + 1 did not include financing information.

Rays/Hines proposal anticipates some manner of tax increment financing for about $150 million in infrastructure costs. State and federal housing subsidy programs are also referenced.

Aerial view notes

Finally, among the four proposals are a few interesting elements we would be remiss to not include in some capacity that can be discussed alongside an aerial view of the redevelopment.

Sugar Hill is proposing a dual use stadium for the Rays and Rowdies, which would free up the waterfront Al Lang field site for other development. It is worth noting the airport is also under recent local consideration for redevelopment as well.

Sugar Hill aerial view

GPD-RA is proposing to build... self-storage units? We thought perhaps we were misreading this, but no, self-storage units, area 1 in the map below, are really a part of the urban landscape they are suggesting.

The justification for this inclusion is that Mr. Freedman would self-finance the self-storage facility and the rental income could help provide investment funds for the rest of the development. And to be sure, the site selected is one of the least attractive parts of the area, near the highway. But, we cannot emphasize this enough: you do not invest millions in the redevelopment of a vital, central urban area to build self-storage units.

50+1 has a plan for the site (below), BUT they also considered what might happen if I-175 were demolished. This may sound crazy, but taking down elevated highways to improve urban areas has become something of a trend.

Here is how 50+1 sees the street grid prior if I-175 were demolished:

Rays/Hines This plan includes an area for artist studios and galleries, in addition to a 2,500+ seat performing arts center intended for school and community use, as well as more established cultural institutions, a nod to St. Pete’s growing artist community.