Rays stadium development team lays out plan for ‘world class destination’ amid stadium excitement and trepidation

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While the Historic Gas Plant project has been met with plenty of excitement — the project has been decades in the making — it’s also faced its fair share of pushback.

The Tampa Bay Rays and its development partner, Hines, are full steam ahead in anticipation of a City Council vote sometime this Spring on the Tropicana Field site redevelopment project and another also expected this Spring from the Pinellas County Commission.

Leaders from the Rays, Hines and its local partners fielded questions from members of Suncoast Tiger Bay at the club’s monthly luncheon, held this week at Tropicana Field.

Rays co-Presidents Brian Auld and Matt Silverman were on hand along with Hines Senior Managing Director Michael Harrison, Best Source Consulting President and CEO Anddrikk Frazier and Everald Colas, with project architecture firm Storyn Studio to present project details and answer questions from Tiger Bay members known for avoiding softballs.

Most of the information was rehashed, details that have already been revealed, but speakers amplified their message that Rays baseball is in St. Pete to stay and that their commitment to meeting community needs is fluid, much like the burgeoning metropolis that surrounds the 86-acre Historic Gas Plant site.

Notably, Auld re-upped his pledge to support all transportation-related initiatives in the region. The Rays have long backed transit and transportation projects in the Tampa Bay region, including its early support for the failed Greenlight Pinellas sales tax initiative in Pinellas County last decade and for Hillsborough County’s now-canceled All for Transportation sales tax that would have funded sweeping road and transit projects across the Bay.

“We just know we need all of it, and we’re going to support all of it,” Auld said in response to a member’s question about how the team plans to address transportation challenges to get fans from a large region to a destination that has proven, at least geographically, less than ideal for regional attendance.

He noted that the Rays are, after all, a baseball team; plans to improve transportation should be left to experts to figure out.

The Rays have long struggled with attendance at home games, with the empty seats often attributed to location. The example most often cited involves a circle that encompasses the most fans within a 30-minute radius of the stadium. That’s a problem for the Trop site because about half that circle for a downtown St. Pete stadium is in the water where, obviously, no one lives.

But the development team expects to mitigate that problem by, as Auld explained it, creating a world-class destination.

Harrison laid out plans to create what will eventually be a largely self-sustaining development where residents, visitors, and workers can hit the grocery store, shop, dine, work, and play all within walking distance.

“We’re taking lessons from the Gas Plant District as it was originally,” Harrison said, noting that the team is having conversations with those who once called the site home but were displaced by the stadium’s original construction in the late ’80s. “Successful environments are designed to be place-making.”

That means the site should include a grocery store (Harrison said Hines has already been in conversations with some grocers (but wouldn’t say who), new office space, amenities for all ages from day care to 50-plus features, shopping, entertainment, education and more.

He said the team has also been engaging with retailers and restaurateurs, not just those catering to high-end clientele. They’re looking at a mixed-use development that serves the needs of everyone, from the business executive to the food service worker.

Frazier acknowledged that the community has heard these promises before and pledged to ensure this project follows through, but “the community needs to hold us accountable,” he added.

While the Historic Gas Plant project has been met with plenty of excitement — the project has been decades in the making — it’s also faced its fair share of pushback, particularly regarding the city and county’s contribution to the project and related incentives to developers.

The Community Benefits Advisory Council (CBAC), tasked with evaluating development projects that include significant city subsidies to ensure adequate community benefit, signed off on the Rays/Hines development plan this week, but not before recommending the City Council stock it with a bit more bang for the community’s buck.

The plan includes 1,200 affordable housing units — 600 on-site and 600 off-site — a pledge of $50 million for city initiatives, a new Woodson African American History Museum, and more. But it also includes a discounted land sale of $105 million for the 65-acre project area and about $600 million in public funds to help pay for a new stadium.

The CBAC recommended tying the $50 million pot for city incentives to inflation and suggested penalties for not meeting housing goals, among other asks.

The development team, meanwhile, insists the community benefit will be robust, spanning everything from new affordable housing, the first new office space in the downtown area in about 20 years, park space, educational opportunities, sustainable building and design, cultural space, an event venue, and more.

The project will also emphasize equity, leaders said. But that could be a liability in a state where diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are frowned upon and banned in certain public arenas, such as state colleges and universities.

The Tampa Bay Rays have become known for standing up for DEI and related issues, including supporting the removal of a Confederate statue in Hillsborough County and championing LGBTQ issues. But Auld said the organization doesn’t plan to get involved in every fight.

“We have to respect that we’re a baseball team,” he said. “We’re not looking to pick fights. … The vast majority of the time, we think it’s best that other people speak.”

And Silverman likewise said it’s important for the team and the development to remain a place that welcomes all.

“Baseball is a game; it’s a sport that is supposed to be enjoyed by all,” he said. “We take that responsibility very seriously.”

He added that the development team and the Rays organization are committed to respecting those with different views and ensuring they are welcome to the ballpark and surrounding development.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


16 comments

  • Julia

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    February 9, 2024 at 5:40 pm

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  • rbruce

    February 9, 2024 at 9:34 pm

    Where is all of the money coming from? Why must the Gov’t keep spending money they don’t have? Are the taxpayers going to get an ownership share of the Rays and the new stadium?

  • Larry Quigley

    February 10, 2024 at 1:19 pm

    Doesn’t everyone involved with the Ray’s realize that after 25 years St Pete is not going to support this team !
    Just look at Miami’s nice stadium !!!

  • Ed

    February 10, 2024 at 1:59 pm

    To travel to a weeknight game for a large section of the demographic in Tampa the round trip is around 2 hours. That means leaving at 6 going through rush hour traffic and hopefully getting to your seat before the third inning. Assuming the game is about 3 hours with no issues arrive home by 11 or a bit later. Also, most will need to go to bed right after due to early rising to prepare and go to the job or business. Don’t forget the cost of fuel, parking and tickets. How many times per week or even per month will a lot of folks want to do this.

  • AG

    February 10, 2024 at 8:10 pm

    Man. They really think people going to drive to downtown St. Pete from Tampa. That’s minimal 40 min trip 1 way without traffic. Placing the stadium in St. Pete is the worst idea. Didn’t work before won’t work now. Worst part they didn’t really move it. It’s pretty much in the same spot.

  • Brad

    February 11, 2024 at 3:14 am

    Was really hoping the stadium would be built closer to Tampa, maybe near the South end of the Frankenstein bridge. That alone would probably get me to attend more than one game a year. Existing drive is just too much from Lutz. If they are going to stay in St.Pete should change the name to St Pete Rays.

  • Mojo

    February 11, 2024 at 7:32 am

    Why should the taxpayers be on the hook for $600,000,000 to a private organization? Note how the public has no say in this? I live 3 miles from the stadium and not unlike 95% of the population couldn’t care less about baseball or sports at all.

  • Former journalist

    February 11, 2024 at 9:06 am

    Before the current stadium was constructed, study after study was done and every one of them showed people from Hillsborough and Pasco and Polk would NOT drive past Feather Sound area if the stadium had to be situated in Pinellas. Every study showed Tampa to be better choice, Feather Sound if it had to be in Pinellas. St. Pete promoters eventually hired a single firm willing to cherry pick the numbers to get the results they wanted. This allowed them to ignore all the other studies.
    Some of those involved had financial stake in the old gas plant, then an EPA superfund site loaded with toxic petrochemicals at the time and unsuitable for just about anything else. Now they want you to give them a subsidy to freshen up their business so they can increase their wealth.

    • Mojo

      February 11, 2024 at 9:17 am

      So you’re saying their’s corruption abound? No way ! I’m shocked ! Sounds like typical government/corporate status quo. Things are never as they appear. The issue is never the (real) issue…….

      • Jimmy

        February 13, 2024 at 9:32 am

        Ever wonder why everything is so expensive? these boondoggles end up on your tax bills as well as via reduced or eliminated services for other things. It’s important to make your voice heard.
        I like the Rays but in my 55 years have noticed that every good business opportunity never lacks for private capital. Every bad opportunity becomes publicly funded with no ownership interest for the taxpayers.

  • Ed Gilbert

    February 11, 2024 at 11:18 am

    How soon we forger Harbor Island, a very expensive white elephant forced down the taxpayers throats. How long did it take to recover financially?

  • Michael Gibbons

    February 11, 2024 at 10:27 pm

    In addition to all the above reasons why the location of the Ray’s was and is a reason for bad attendance is the fact that Population growth in the Tampa Bay area is east and north of Tampa. Plus you have a University with 40,000+ students as potential fans. Put it in Tampa, northeast lyrics or easterly area, couple it with some light rail, and attendance will increase. BTW, Fenway Park has two designated subway stops and 2 more in walking distance plus Boston University, 36000 students, LITERALLY right around the corner.

  • Michael Gibbons

    February 11, 2024 at 10:28 pm

    Northeasterly. Auto correct sucks.

  • Ed

    February 12, 2024 at 10:19 am

    Factoid: When the Trop was first presented for being constructed in St. Pete it was put to the voters as a referendum there. It was defeated . Yet somehow the politicians, (representatives of the voters?), found a way to build the stadium nonetheless.

  • Josh Green

    February 13, 2024 at 12:55 pm

    They’re still building this on the wrong side of the bay.

Comments are closed.


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