John Romano: Rays have a developer and a plan for a stadium. Do they have a partner in St. Petersburg?

John Romano, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Baseball

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It’s decision time in the city. The same momentous, once-in-a-lifetime decision that keeps playing round and round in these parts.

It first arrived here with Tropicana Field’s conception in 1986. And then again, briefly, with a proposed waterfront stadium in 2007. And now the latest stadium decision could plausibly redraw a city’s future while simultaneously rectifying the sins of its past. Again.

That first time, the stadium was intended to lure Major League Baseball and bask in its economic windfalls while revitalizing a vulnerable neighborhood. This time, it is attempting to hold onto Major League Baseball and better capitalize on economic windfalls while restoring that same lost neighborhood.

The difference? In 2023, the city is finally hoping to get it right.

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch is expected to announce Monday his choice among four competing bids to redevelop the 86-acre Tropicana Field site with a new stadium as its centerpiece. Realistically, the choice is down to two developers.

Both city officials and a third-party consultant have identified Hines and Sugar Hill as the most impressive proposals. And while you can parse the dollar figures and square footage totals for the two bids, the most critical disparity is this:


The Rays are completely on board with Hines, and not so with Sugar Hill.

And since their use agreement at Tropicana Field gives the Rays control over the land until the end of 2027, if Welch chooses Sugar Hill the ripple effects could be epic.

For instance:

— The Rays could determine that Sugar Hill’s plans to begin early redevelopment jeopardizes their current business interests and could seek to block any construction on Trop property until 2028.


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