Historic Gas Plant District Plans Return

A sign that says,
Say goodbye to Tropicana Field; say hello to the Historic Gas Plant District!
Photo by Patrick Heinzen

Whether you’re entering or leaving St. Petersburg, you can’t miss Tropicana Field. Since 1990, it has seen a variety of sporting events, and has been the home of the Tampa Bay Rays since 1998. Unfortunately, the stadium receives constant criticism; some call it one of the worst stadiums in the country. Originally built in the heart of the Historic Gas Plant Community, the stadium displaced multiple residents and businesses with the promise of opportunity that never came.

Nearly 40 years later, on Sept. 19, 2023, the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg came to an agreement that would keep the Rays in the area. This includes the construction of a new ballpark set to be ready for the 2028 MLB season. The 86-acre site of the current stadium will get renovated, and the Historic Gas Plant District will be reborn. According to the City of St. Petersburg website, the development will invest more than $6,000,000,000 in St. Petersburg, making it the largest development project in Tampa Bay History.

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long wrote an enthusiastic letter to the community about the project.

“This stadium will act as a catalyst for this Historic District and beyond – a space where our local families can live, work, and play in an entertainment destination,” said Long. “Our entire County benefits with this new jewel venue and events that can draw visitors to Pinellas County for the sports, arts, culture, culinary, and entertainment opportunities they seek. It goes without saying how proud we are to be a part of creating a new venue for Pinellas County Families to enjoy for generations to come.”

Community Engagement

A major part of this project is a $50,000,000 commitment to equity. The City encourages residents t0 attend a Community Benefits Information Session on Dec. 13 at 5:30 p.m. at The Coliseum (535 4th Ave. N., St. Petersburg). Here, the public can learn about the proposed benefits, and provide input on the project. The Community Benefits Analysis Council (CBAC) will begin their process to advise Mayor Kenneth T. Welch, City Council, and St. Pete residents in January 2024. The CBAC will meet on Tuesdays in January: Jan. 9, 16, 23, and 30.

In a statement to the community, Mayor Welch expressed his excitement towards the project.

“Lifting up residents from every part of St. Pete is imperative for our city’s success,” said Welch. “This project will be a prosperous game changer for those who live in, work in, and visit St. Petersburg.”

Community Benefits Breakdown

  • Housing: $15,000,000 will support existing St. Petersburg housing programs that promote affordable housing.
  • Small Business: $13,000,000 will support small businesses in the district, with a focus on minority and women-owned businesses.
  • Employment: $3,750,000 will go to internships and apprentice programs that will lead to jobs during the construction and operation during the development of the site. 
  • Education: $17,500,000 is going to financial investments in educational programs in South St. Petersburg, as well as providing funding to various cultural and civic centers. This will include the construction of the new Woodson African American Museum of Florida.
  • Outreach: $750,000 will fund outreach that strengthens the community through town halls, committees, and a welcome center at the site. 

The Historic Gas Plant legacy will continue, by naming parts of the project to look at historical moments and art that reflect the history of the site.

“Like many others, I used to call the Gas Plant home. Some forty years ago, my family’s livelihood was uprooted with the promise of economic opportunity that would improve and enhance their lives,” said Welch. “Now, we have a chance to fulfill those promises and preserve the legacy of the Historic Gas Plant neighborhood.”

Planning for the Future

By early 2024, St. Petersburg City Council will vote on the stadium and development agreements for this project. In the fall of 2024, construction will begin. By fall of 2027, the first phase of development is set to be complete. The new ballpark will debut on opening day of the 2028 MLB Season.

“In his poem, ‘Harlem,’ Langston Hughes asks, ‘What happens to a dream deferred?’ As to the legacy of the Historic Gas Plant community, a dream deferred will no longer be a dream denied,” said Welch.

On Tuesday, Dec. 5 at 6:00 p.m. the Southern Poverty Law Center will host a screening of the film, Rise of The Rays: A Devil Of A Story. This looks at the development of Tropicana Field, and the history of professional sports in St. Petersburg. The screening will take place at Enoch Davis Recreation Center (1111 18th Ave. S. St. Petersburg), followed by a discussion panel.

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