Prospective Tropicana Field site developer has tough questions to answer

tropicana field
Former NBA star Kevin Johnson is involved, and he has a checkered past.

One of two finalists will be on hand Monday to answer questions about their development proposals for the Tropicana Field site.

Sugar Hill Community Partners, a development team headed by San Francisco developer JMA Ventures, is calling for a $3.1 billion project, including $837 million in public financing.

The team will face a host of questions Monday, all that must be satisfactorily answered before moving forward with what is perhaps the city’s biggest redevelopment opportunity this generation.

The team must be able to demonstrate they understand St. Petersburg’s rich diversity, it’s love for culture and its various needs ranging from jobs and affordable housing to leisure and historic significance.

Obvious among the questions will be where to locate a new baseball stadium, assuming one is needed. The future of the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg is still very much an unknown, and Mayor Rick Kriseman has come under fire recently for moving forward with choosing a Trop site developer before a decision is reached.

Because of that though, Kriseman is looking for a design that incorporates development both with and without a stadium. Early iterations of a site master plan called for a stadium along the edge of the sprawling 86-acre site. But both finalists, which also includes Midtown Development’s “Creekside” plan, placed a hypothetical stadium more toward the center of the site.

That drew skepticism from city staffers who make up a 26-member committee reviewing plans and submitting feedback to Kriseman. Workforce Development Manager Rick Smith said the stadium placement in Sugar Hill’s plan seemed like “an afterthought,” according to documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. Committee members worried a central stadium site would impede mobility within the rest of the development.

Other questions will have to be answered as well, including about how to incorporate Booker Creek. Both final designs call for widening the underutilized creek to create a park feature to compliment the city’s already robust part network. It’s an element city officials prioritized when first developing goals for the site.

But committee members commented on both designs’ plans for the creek, worrying about the longterm sustainability and calling for more investigation into the plans’ viability.

Meanwhile, Sugar Hill will also need to answer questions about its plans to honor the Black community within the development, which sits on a site once home to a thriving African American community that was displaced when Tropicana Field was originally developed.

The group may have an easier time speaking to that element than Midtown, however. Committee members praised the plan for some of it elements, including a minority-owned brewery and a history walk honoring the site and the black community.

Still, those elements might appease staffers, but they stop short of offering the Black community what they ultimately want in the plan — access to features that will lift neighborhoods that have suffered for decades as a result of the stadium’s construction.

There’s also one giant element in the room Sugar Hill will need to address — former NBA star Kevin Johnson. Johnson, who also previously served two terms as Sacramento’s Mayor, was accused by several women of molesting them as teenagers. Johnson is a member of the Sugar Hill group.

He’s never faced charges and denies the allegations, but the girls’ claims are troubling and cast a shadow on the Sugar Hill development team.

Among the accusers are Mandi Koba, who in 2016 accused Johnson of taking off her clothes, fondling her an showering with her in 1996 when she was just 16 years old. Two other women came forward the same year alleging inappropriate touching when they were 18.

Does St. Pete really want its banner development marred by the inclusion of an alleged child molester?

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 Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the 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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