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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

Protect our community, former Gas Plant residents say of Rays' plans to redevelop Tropicana Field

Protesters hold signs in front of city hall
Gabriella Paul
/
WUSF
Faith in Florida volunteer Alexa Manning speaks during a "Don't Sell The Trop" press conference organized by community members on Jan. 30.

A coalition of housing, labor and faith-based groups gathered on the steps of City Hall to call on St. Petersburg officials to safeguard the public ownership of the 86-acre site on which Tropicana Field sits.

On Monday, Mayor Ken Welch named the Hines-Rays group to redevelop Tropicana Field and the area around it, known as the Historic Gas Plant district.

In this second wave of proposals, the development groups were asked to dedicate part of their plans to affordable housing.

Although the Hines-Rays group offered the lowest percentage of affordable units, the proposal beat out the three other teams in the running: 50 Plus 1 Sports, Gas Plant District Restoration Associates and Sugar Hill Community Partners.

“We are excited about the opportunity to build affordable quality housing that the residents of St. Petersburg can be proud of, just as Dantes Partners has done across the Mid-Atlantic and South Eastern region. We look forward to executing our vision to create a vibrant new community that is welcoming and feels like home to everyone, regardless of income," according to a written statement by the development team.

READ MORE: Affordable housing for the Tropicana Field redevelopment plans hinges on government incentives

Around 400 community members gathered outside St. Petersburg’s City Hall to hear the much anticipated decision during the mayor’s State of the City address.

Among them was Greg Ross, a retired Pinellas County teacher and former resident of the Gas Plant district.

Growing up, Ross said he lived in a housing project on Third Avenue before the initial construction of the baseball stadium displaced the historically Black community, including his family.

Sporting a Tampa Bay Rays baseball cap, Ross celebrated the mayor’s decision and emphasized his appreciation for the national attention and new jobs the team has brought to the city over the years.

Now, with the help of the Hines-Rays development team, Ross dreams of moving back to his childhood neighborhood.

“Because of the way the housing situation is being structured, it may be a realistic opportunity," Ross said. "Since I'm a retired educator, I don't make a lot of money. I live on a fixed income, but it may be a way forward for myself to be able to move downtown.”

Alexa Manning, who is a longtime resident of the south side of St. Pete, feels differently.

Two hours after the mayor’s decision, she joined more than a dozen members of housing, labor and faith-based groups in front of City Hall to voice her concerns. Namely, calling for the city to safeguard their public ownership of the 86 acres throughout the development process.

“Please keep us part of that community," Manning said. "The Gas Plant was taken from us once, please do not take it again.”

Manning said she fears that forfeiting ownership of the public land will not protect the interest and needs of the community members, especially those struggling to afford housing.

In response to concerns, the development team contends that they will prioritize collaboration with the community.

“We will strive to strike a balance of community needs with that of the long term viability of the site," according to an emailed response.

The Hines-Rays proposal includes plans for 5,700 residential units with almost a quarter dedicated to affordable housing. The team's affordable housing lead is CEO of Dantes Partners Buwa Binitie, who is proposing 850 on-site affordable and workforce housing units and another 600 off-site residences.

Formal negotiations are set to begin in coming weeks ahead of the required approval by city council to proceed.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.