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The Tropicana Field redevelopment plan seems to be rolling along

Rendering of the interior of a baseball park set up for a musical performance.
Tampa Bay Rays
Designers also envision the stadium as a multi-function facility that can be used for concerts and community events.

The deal to redevelop Tropicana Field into a mini city-within-a-city took one step closer to reality Wednesday. St. Petersburg City Council members appear to back the plan — with some revisions. Their first vote is Thursday.

St. Petersburg City Council members peppered both city and Rays officials for six hours on details about the funding plan for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium and the surrounding Historic Gas Plant District.

Despite the large cost of the total project to taxpayers — at least half a billion dollars — council chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders said she's looking at the long-term benefits.

"We're not going to satisfy everyone," she said at the conclusion of Wednesday's meeting. "But for me, it has always been the bigger picture of the community benefits as to what is the city actually going to gain from this particular project?"

Councilman Richie Floyd questioned the economic impact of a new stadium. He noted a report that this subsidy would be the largest in Major League Baseball history.

"Where I trip over some speed bumps is just the perspective that there's something stopping us from redeveloping the site in a holistic and equitable manner without a baseball stadium," Floyd said.

"I don't agree. I think that attaching it to the baseball stadium is a good way to make the baseball stadium look like a good investment. When, like I mentioned, the academic consensus says that it isn't."

But city officials project more than $1 billion in property tax revenue would come from the redeveloped Tropicana Field site over the next sixty years.

"Whether the stadium itself is a catalyst for economic development, we believe wholeheartedly that it's a catalyst for the redevelopment of the whole site," said City Administrator Rob Gerdes.

"I doubt very seriously we're going to get a five-star hotel with a conference center without the baseball team. I don't think we get an African American History Museum without the Rays. I don't think we get a music venue and I doubt we get the office space."

He was backed by Mayor Ken Welch, who said this project goes further than similar baseball stadium redevelopments in other cities.

"I don't think you can compare this Hines/Rays proposal with any other proposal, whether it's Atlanta or Miami," Welch said. "And I've looked at those stadium deals around the country, none of them, not one has a level of affordable economic development tied into it as well as its jobs."

Rays President Matt Silverman said the deal would likely keep the team in St. Petersburg for more than the 30 years outlined in the proposed agreement.

"Tropicana Field has been a 30-year temporary home of the Tampa Bay Rays and we're building our permanent home in a neighborhood that will complement the ballpark," he said.

"And in doing so, the hope and the expectation is that there won't be a decision about the next home. It will be to continue and have this incredible ballpark that outlasts all of us here."

Council member Copley Gerdes (Rob Gerdes' cousin) supports the proposal, saying it will generate a large economic impact to the city over time.

"In Major League Baseball, there have been 10 cities in the modern era that have lost teams. Nine of them have teams again," he said. "I struggle with the argument that they didn't think that there was an economic impact if they went back out and got another team after that team leaving. By the way, the 10th team is Montreal, who tried to get half ours. And so the economic impact I think speaks for itself."

City Council members will hold their first official vote on the project Thursday afternoon.

The Council and the Pinellas County Commission are expected to hold their vote on the ballpark in July.

Aerial view of new development
Artist's rendering of an aerial overview of the new stadium and environs

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.