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Welch says he is starting over with plans to redevelop the Tropicana Field site

Ken Welch at a podium beneath an overpass, speaking at the podium while reporters listen
Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch is going back to step one when it comes to redeveloping the site of Tropicana Field. Welch brought an axe handle belonging to his grandfather, who worked at a wood yard in the Gas Plant District. At a press conference on June 29, 2022, Welch announced he's canceling the original "request for proposal" from 2020 and previous mayor Rick Kriseman.

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch announced he will launch a new "request for proposal" process, citing the growing need for affordable housing and other factors.

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch is going back to step one when it comes to redeveloping the site of Tropicana Field.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Welch announced he's canceling the original "request for proposal" from 2020 and previous mayor Rick Kriseman.

Citing the pandemic, the growing need for affordable housing, and other factors, Welch says "the environment" has changed since the initial request.

The mayor added that equitable development needs to be prioritized in St. Pete. He drew attention to last year’s racial disparity study results, which found that non-minority males were awarded the biggest city projects.

Welch said his decision will help honor a promise made more than 30 years ago to the Gas Plant District, one of St. Pete’s oldest historically Black neighborhoods.

“When I look at recognizing the sacrifices of the Gas Plant community, it's not a plaque or trail,” he said. “It's ongoing economic support and rebuilding.”

READ MORE: Ken Welch said St. Petersburg is still the 'best place' for the Rays

Gate 1 outside Tropicana Field
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch announced he's canceling the original "request for proposal" in redeveloping the site of Tropicana Field. The city says the new process will "ensure intentional equity, vibrancy and economic vitality for years to come."

"After careful consideration of the original process and proposals, we determined it was prudent to begin a new RFP process," Welch wrote on the city's website.

"Our environment has changed since the original RFP was issued in July of 2020, including a pandemic that changed the way we work and affected the potential need for office space; rising housing prices and rental rates; the need for intentional equity and equitable development as highlighted by the city’s Disparity Study and Structural Racism report; and the need to embrace the Community Benefits model City Council adopted last year."

Welch added that the Tampa Bay Rays' plans — and whether they will stay in St. Petersburg or move elsewhere when their lease expires in 2027 — are another hold-up.

"This is also an important opportunity to bring certainty to the future of the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg," according to a press release. "The Welch administration has spent significant time building and rebuilding relationships with key partners, including City Council, Pinellas County, members of the community and the Tampa Bay Rays. Significant progress is being made with our partners toward developing the right model for the Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment, focused on inclusive progress and equitable development for our entire city."

Welch told the crowd gathered outside the stadium Wednesday that he felt optimistic the Rays would stay in St. Pete.

“I think St. Pete is the best opportunity for the Rays,” Welch said. “The Rays are here today. I think that's a signal that our relationship is vastly improved.”

“However, this is a generational project that has to be done right. And we can't focus solely on getting it done as quickly as possible at this point. After so many years of delay and debate. The gas plant promises are more than three decades old, and the community has been waiting a long time for the promise benefits made with respect to the sacrifice of the gas plant community. A few more months is a relatively short time to make sure that we are choosing the right path

Welch also said he hopes the Rays will be part of the redevelopment plan, but the city needs certainty a new plan would provide.

“This is a community's vision for 86 acres,” he said. “And the Rays’ vision has to work with that.”

The mayor said he hopes Midtown Development and Sugar Hill, finalists in the bid under the old RFP, will reapply in August.

Alex Vadia, Principal of Midtown Development, issued a statement soon after Welch's announcement.

“Midtown Development has been honored to spend the last few years working with our partners in the City of St. Petersburg on the Tropicana Field RFP," Vadia said. "We have made many friends in the St. Petersburg Community, including Watson Haynes of the Pinellas County Urban League. We are truly grateful for their friendship. We wish Mayor Ken Welch and the residents of the City of St. Petersburg all the best in their future efforts to redevelop Tropicana Field.”

The new request will be ready in four to five weeks and Welch says the city hopes to make a decision by the end of the year.

Jack Prator is the WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for summer of 2022.
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