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Gas Plant district before Tropicana Field
St. Petersburg Museum of History

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We owe it to former Gas Plant District residents to get this right

St. Pete gets a do-over, redeveloping the Tropicana Field area

The selection of the Rays/Hines group for the redevelopment of the land encompassing Tropicana Field opens the door for the Tampa Bay-bred ball club to stay in the area for generations to come.

However, this is not the first time that the neighborhood known as the Gas Plant District has been the epicenter of baseball in Tampa Bay.

To build the formerly-named Florida Suncoast Dome in the late-1980’s, along with acquiring the land needed for parking and other miscellaneous usage, a thriving, predominantly black neighborhood was uprooted.

Promises were made, of course. The multi-use facility would bring Major League baseball and other events; jobs for minority residents would follow; and in the long run displaced residents would be better off. Well, the team did (eventually) come but I’m not sure the rest of those promises have, at this point, been fulfilled.

It’s a little late, but can some of those promises be met now?

St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch, a descendant of Gas Plant District residents, graduate of Bay Point Elementary and Lakewood High School, and a long time Rays fan, is in charge of making the best decision for the city of St. Petersburg about the redevelopment of Tropicana Field and the large, mostly undeveloped area of broken promises that surrounds it.

Now, I am not nearly decorated as Mayor Welch, but we do share some similarities.

My grandmother, Betty Ann Thompson, grew up in St. Petersburg. In fact, she was a Gas Plant District resident, and would frequent such neighborhood landmarks as Webb’s City. She was also a regular at Al Lang Field where she grew her love of baseball, and an allegiance to the St. Louis Cardinals, during spring training.

Webb’s City, St. Petersburg
St. Pete Catalyst, from a post card

When she got word that residents of the District were being uprooted for baseball, she told herself that whatever team came to play in the Dome, she would support to do what she could to help the area thrive. In 1995, she was one of the first to place a season ticket deposit for two seats, knowing that she was the only one in my family that cared about baseball. In 1996, I was born, and 18 months later, I am at the Inaugural Devil Rays game in section 136, wheelchair seats 3-4, being pushed around in a stroller.

I, too, am the descendant of Gas Plant District relatives, I later attended Bay Point Elementary and Lakewood High school (and graduated with honors), just like Mayor Welch.

I hope to purchase Rays season tickets and bring my family to the ballpark someday to watch them win a championship in a thriving neighborhood, just like my grandmother would have liked to see. I firmly believe Mayor Welch is the best person to guide the change in St. Pete as well.

The Rays staying in the area for generations to come is indubitably exciting. This is probably brightest the light has been at a new ballpark becoming a reality since 2007. It is still a long road to the big sunburst of, “energizing the community through the magic of Rays baseball and Rowdies soccer,” for generations to come, but I’m happy to be part of this journey.

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