Right now, there is only one clear choice for redeveloping St. Pete’s Tropicana Field

tropicana field
Sugar Hill is seeking more than 10 times as much public money as their remaining competitor.

St. Petersburg is getting closer to choosing which company will handle the Tropicana Field redevelopment project.

Recently, Mayor Rick Kriseman announced that the field had been narrowed to two: Midtown Development and Sugar Hill Community Partners.

Midtown Development is pitching a plan known as Creekside, with an overall cost of $2.7 billion to $3.8 billion. The total spend doesn’t account for a stadium, but it otherwise reads like a wish list for the site.

It would feature at least 6,000 residential units, 3.3 million square feet of office space, 300,000 square feet of retail space, a hotel, conference center and innovation complex — the list goes on.

The biggest benefit: It would use only $75 million in public money by way of tax-increment financing. Meanwhile, the company has committed to pumping $190 million into the city.

The figure includes $94 million for public infrastructure improvements, $60 million to buy the land from the city, a $30 million investment into a small box retail and creative office proof of concept, a $10 million upfront payment to the city and a $5 million investment into Unlocking Opportunities, which will distribute the money as grants for minority owned businesses.

Sugar Hill’s cost is somewhere between $2.6 billion without a ballpark and $3.1 billion with one. The development would include about half the number of residential units as the Midtown plan and a million fewer square feet of office space. Retail space comes in at 280,000 square feet if the stadium gets the greenlight and 325,000 square feet if not.

So, Sugar Hill lags behind Midtown in a few metrics, but the plan is otherwise attractive — until you dig a little deeper, that is.

The shocker here is the public’s share of the cost. At $837 million, Sugar Hill is seeking more than 10 times as much public money as their lone remaining competitor.

What’s going on here?

The city says it can’t afford a stadium, but somehow the Sugar Hill plan wasn’t rejected out of hand.

This shouldn’t be shocking, but $837 million is stadium money. Actually, it’s state-of-the-art, almost Jerry World-level stadium money.

The jaw-dropping budget stems from a slew of add-ons that sound good on paper but, when combined, come off as pandering — patronizing, even.

Sugar Hill’s name is a nod to the once-thriving Black neighborhood decimated by Interstate 175. The new Sugar Hill is playing into those memories by dangling carrots such as a history walk and a token amount of affordable housing.

Thomas Hallock of Creative Loafing put it best: It engineers a full-blown social vision. But it’s a hollow one. For every square foot of cultural space, there will be 1,000 square feet set aside for a conference center.

Its intentions are only thinly veiled. A slick marketing video for the proposal implies it has the backing of local business owners and community leaders, yet many of the people interviewed were surprised at the ways their words had been twisted in the final product — they thought they were simply weighing in on what they hoped to see in the eventual development, regardless of which developer is selected.

It’s said that the distortions were blatant enough that it made the local video production team feel queasy piecing together the final cut.

The video closes with an apparent endorsement from St. Petersburg NAACP President Esther Eugene that she subsequently walked back, clarifying that she “did not endorse this plan on behalf of NAACP.”

The NAACP did eventually get on board with the Sugar Hill proposal, though that was expected given the chapter president’s vocal support. The misrepresentation that preceded it, however, is a porthole into the rot at the developer.

The propagandizing is attempting to obscure their most concerning flaw: The companies that make up Sugar Hill Community Partners are helmed by a cynical cast of characters with a track record of failing to deliver.

JMA Ventures, the lead developer behind Sugar Hill, was the subject of a 2018 lawsuit accusing them of bungling a hotel development for the Sacramento Kings and stiffing their subcontractors for nearly $26 million in work. The alleged mismanagement nearly drove some local businesses into bankruptcy.

Two Sugar Hill members, J Square Developers and Backstreet Capital, are part of the developer group that landed the deal to redevelop the old St. Petersburg Police headquarters site. The project has already veered away from the original vision and will feature only half of the 100,000 square feet of office space called for in the original development agreement. 

Sugar Hill likely made the final two because two of its key players, Jay Miller of J Square Developers and Craig Sher of Backstreet Capital, have close ties to City Hall.

That could certainly explain why the door hasn’t shut on the proposal despite an out-of-this-world cost to taxpayers, a demonstrated track record of overpromising and underdelivering, and plumes of smoke surrounding some of the top brass at the lead developer.

Maybe the Mayor has a better explanation. If so, we’d love to hear it.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.



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