St. Petersburg to launch fresh RFP for Tropicana Field site

The City of St. Petersburg will launch a fresh request for proposals process for the site of Tropicana Field, the home of Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise Tampa Bay Rays, after deciding not to proceed with the current RFP.

St. Petersburg Mayor, Kenneth Welch, has announced that the city is cancelling the RFP issued in July 2020 and launching a new RFP process. The original RFP for the 86-acre stadium site outlined the city’s guiding principles for the project and how it envisioned its next new neighbourhood.

The process had been reduced to two contenders for the developers contract, Midtown and Sugar Hill, but Welch has now elected to start afresh. The City said that much has changed since first contracting with HKS Architects in 2016 to develop a conceptual site masterplan.

The concept including a new ballpark was completed in March 2017 and the concept without a new ballpark was completed in November 2018. From there, the city spent much of 2019 and early 2020 evaluating sustainable and equitable best practices for the site before opening the RFP in July 2020.

Since then, the City has pointed to the fact it has suffered through the economic effects of a pandemic and is currently in the midst of a nationwide affordable housing crisis. It said that as these effects were not fully realised in the original plans a new set of priorities and considerations should be given to the site.

Citing the stadium model as one of the key priorities of the new RFP, the City said it will be soliciting proposals containing a new baseball stadium, in lieu of including proposals that contemplate a site without one. It said it believes this model will “provide certainty” as it relates to the Rays.

The City said it will consider the Rays as a potential developer. In January, Rays principal owner, Stuart Sternberg, expressed his frustration after MLB rejected the franchise’s innovative ‘Sister City’ venture with Montreal, forcing the team to refocus its efforts on securing a new home in the local region.

In June 2019, MLB gave the green light for the Rays to pursue the option of splitting its season between Florida and the Canadian city of Montreal, amid the franchise’s ongoing stadium issues. The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field, where the team has played since its debut season in 1998, is currently due to expire after the 2027 season.

The ‘Sister City’ plan had been explored as the Rays have regularly ranked near the bottom of MLB in attendance. In December 2018, the Rays maintained they were committed to finding a new home in the local area despite admitting they were at “two strikes” following the decision to abandon a project for a $892m (£735m/€855.3m) new stadium in Ybor City. That followed a failed effort in 2008 to develop a waterfront stadium in downtown St. Petersburg.

While the City admits the expiration of the Rays lease on Tropicana Field in 2027 represents a “real time constraint”, it stated it is crucial that this “generational project” be conducted properly. The City said: “Emphasis must be placed on meeting the city’s needs, delivering progress for our residents and building a district that will be a world class destination to visit, live and work.”

Welch added: “I am optimistic we will choose that right path, one that will bring jobs, equitable and diverse business opportunities, meet our need for housing, meeting space and innovative economic drivers, and support a state-of-the-art home for the Rays for decades to come.”

Welch has instructed staff to target the new RFP release for August, with a view to selecting a developer by the end of the year.

Image: City of St. Petersburg