Residents demand more affordable housing as Tampa Bay Rays and Hines Development seek public input on Gas Plant District

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Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld. By Seán Kinane/WMNF News (8 March 2018).

On Wednesday night the City of St. Petersburg sought public input regarding the new Rays stadium in the Historic Gasplant District. Residents gathered at the Coliseum to voice their excitement, and also their concerns regarding the $6 billion investment into the new neighborhood.

In addition to the new state-of-the-art $1.3 billion baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, the project has intended to mend broken promises made during the construction of the current stadium, which displaced a community of Black homeowners who say they never realized the promises of prosperity. Queen Harris is a US History Teacher at John Hopkins Middle School and is concerned that any potential benefits may still be out of reach for many residents.

“I love going to the Rays games. I love going with my kids, but I watched the process as a kid of people being put out of their homes or taken out of their homes and they gotta go find somewhere to stay. Right now, you know how many people are homeless right now or they have to live with family just to make ends meet. It’s difficult. So I don’t feel like this is for the benefit for the people is probably for people that have money. We’re trying to get there.”

Under the plan, 1,200 affordable housing units are part of the new Rays-Hines proposal with half of them located within city limits. Another $15 million is set aside for helping existing city housing programs, along with another $13 million to help new small businesses. Tampa Bay Rays President Brian Auld called this an opportunity to honor the legacy of the Gas Plant district.

“It’s going to be the most affordable housing to come online in St. Petersburg than any other project has done. Again, we don’t expect to be able to solve all these major issues, but we can put together a model development that’s got a little something for everyone in the city. And we really are grateful for all the people who came out tonight and voiced their opinions.”

Dylan Dames is with Faith in Florida, and said that the problem is the expectation of turning a profit with affordable housing, rather than offering it as a necessary public good.

“We need non-market housing solutions. So we need to be putting up affordable housing that’s actually at the benchmark where people can really afford it. Right. So even though those are rent-restricted, they’re not rent restricted for people making less than $20 an hour. Which is the majority of my service industry friends, right? That’s baristas, some public school staff even. A lot of the black seniors we organize that are either on fixed income or just haven’t really broken through in the economy. Those are the kind of people that Faith in Florida represents and those are the kind of people we want to see units go up for.”

About 300 of the units will be available for about 60% of the area median income, and another 300 for 80% of the area median income, which is roughly $40 to $70,000 annually for a family of 3 or 4. While Dames feels this may be out of reach for families living in poverty, another 3.75 million will be set aside for employment opportunities and apprentice programs on the site. And Auld says the project will remain thoughtful about who is selected for business opportunities.

“…and who gets the opportunity to, you know, live, work and play around it. We expect to integrate with all the surrounding neighborhoods. We couldn’t be more excited to get it going. But we also have to remind everybody this is going to take 20 years to come to fruition. And so please be patient with us. Please partner with us. Please get excited with us. We’ve got a lot ahead.”

Time will tell if the Gas Plant District will ultimately be successful in ensuring intentional equity and community benefits as they have promised. In the meantime, the public will have more opportunities to share input online with the Community Benefits Advisory Council by filling out a form at stpete.org/gasplant. The next in-person meeting will be January 9.

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