St. Pete NAACP backs Rays/Hines proposal for Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment proposal

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'The Rays/Hines Historic Gas Plant Development Project is more than just an infrastructure endeavor; it’s a beacon of hope for economic revitalization and social justice.'

The St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP is backing the Rays/Hines proposal for redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site located in the Historic Gas Plant District, a strong show of support from the city’s Black community that Mayor Ken Welch hopes to honor through the project.

Esther Matthews, the chapter President, said in a memo the group had offered resolute support for the project because it aligns with the NAACP’s Game Changers initiative, specifically as it relates to multigenerational economic development.

The group’s executive committee unanimously voted to support the project, “recognizing its potential to catalyze opportunities for future generations, with a special focus on empowering the African American community and businesses in St. Petersburg,” according to the memo.

“The Rays/Hines Historic Gas Plant Development Project is more than just an infrastructure endeavor; it’s a beacon of hope for economic revitalization and social justice,” Matthews said. “This project embodies our commitment to securing the economic sustainability of our community by ensuring African American businesses and the wider community benefit significantly from this development.”

The group pointed to several opportunities for the Black community, including opportunities for entrepreneurs, paths to ownership, new employment opportunities and a new vibrant local economy that reflects the community’s diversity and resilience.

“We stand ready to collaborate with the Rays, Hines and city officials to ensure this development serves as a model for inclusive growth that other cities can emulate,” Matthews said.

The local NAACP says it will continue to advocate for community involvement and oversight as plans progress, and will work to ensure that promises made are promises kept. Their goal is to ensure the project offers economic empowerment to the African American community in St. Pete for generations to come.

The project is crucial for the Black community, many of whom were displaced from the Gas Plant area when the stadium was originally constructed in the ’80s. Welch himself grew up in the neighborhood and often references his memories with his father and family in the area.

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

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.

Speaking at a Tiger Bay luncheon in February, Rays Co-President Brian Auld addressed the potential clash with state leaders.

“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 Co-President Matt 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].


  • rbruce

    April 10, 2024 at 4:53 pm

    Racist vote buying at its best. The only people getting rich are the builders and the Rays, all at the expense of the taxpayer. Anyone who thinks spending taxpayer money to reduce inflation has never studied basic economics. This whole project is a complete waste of money and resources. Will anyone be fired or banned from holding public office when the promises are not fulfilled?

    • Rick Whitaker

      April 10, 2024 at 10:40 pm

      RBRUCE, the project has to be a 100 % plus deal. the private owner can pay 100%, plus a fee every year from now on. that sort of deal has to become the standard. we got to get these rich bums off our back.

  • Ray Tampa

    April 10, 2024 at 7:53 pm

    I am disappointed in the position taken by the St Petersburg NAACP but NOT surprised. If people look deep into the relationship that exist between certain individuals and the mayor you will see exactly what concerns me. Personal economic growth versus sincere community advocacy is colliding here.

Comments are closed.


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