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Trop ideas: Bring back Gas Plant name. Build convention center.

This rendering from New York’s HKS Architects shows what a redeveloped Tropicana Field site could look like if it includes a new baseball stadium. The city is exploring how to best redevelop the 86-acre Trop site. HKS finished the master plan with a new baseball stadium and is now working on a master plan for the area that would not include a stadium, a plan that assumes the Tampa Bay Rays will relocate to Tampa. [HKS Architects]
Residents discuss the new master plan for redeveloping the Tropicana Field site during a public meeting Monday at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. The plan for remaking the 85-acre site calls for renaming it the Gas Plant District, after the African-American neighborhood the Trop was originally built on, and includes a mix of parks, retail, businesses, a convention center and entertainment options. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON | Times]
ST. PETERSBURG — The city is crafting a new vision for the 86 acres that surround Tropicana Field. Step one: Don’t call it the Trop anymore.

City officials and planners behind the massive redevelopment want to move beyond the baseball dome and reconnect with the area’s history.

That’s why the project has been dubbed — for now — as the Gas Plant District, said Randall Morton, design principal with HKS Architects.

The name change harkens back to the African-American neighborhood the city bulldozed decades ago to build the then-Florida Suncoast Dome, which opened in 1990.

This map shows the 86 acres that comprise Tropicana Field. The city plans to redevelop the site whether or not the Tampa Bay Rays choose to stay in St. Petersburg or move to Tampa. [Times]
Morton said the name could change again later. His New York firm, HKS Architects, is charged with drafting a master plan for the site with and without a baseball stadium, depending on whether the Tampa Bay Rays stay or move to downtown Tampa. The master plan with a new stadium has been completed. Now the firm is designing a plan without a home for the Rays.

Morton and Alan DeLisle, the city’s development administrator, stressed to a crowd of more than 200 who gathered Monday evening at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s campus that there’s still time for residents to have their say before the final plan is assembled.

The 45-minute presentation revealed a vision of what the valuable property west of the downtown waterfront could look like when the Trop is torn down after the Rays’ contract to play there expires in 2027.

Another big idea that was revealed Monday: Build a convention center there. Tampa has its own convention center, and thus attracts all the convention business in the bay area. However, there is no such meeting space in Pinellas County.

But in the Gas Light District plan, the redevelopment could see a convention center built that would be tied into a tech-oriented campus, perhaps for USFSP. Think labs and classes, but also a performance hall for lectures, art and maybe even concerts and sporting events.

St. Petersburg City Council member Gina Driscoll said the lack of a convention center has long been a void in Pinellas and St. Petersburg in particular. She also liked the idea of tying it to a college campus dedicated to technology.

“That helps us to attract a more diverse work force,” Driscoll said. “And to have housing there, too, you have the live, work, play dynamic going on in such an amazing way.”

About 40 percent of the Gas Plant site, or 34 acres, would be set aside for public space, including parks and a pedestrian promenade, Morton said. The other 60 percent would be used for the proposed convention center and the businesses, housing, retail and entertainment that will take root there.

Planners also proposed taking Booker Creek, which winds through the site and is 30 feet across at its widest point, and expanding it to as much as 300 feet of wide at certain points. That would create a water feature for the new district which would be surrounded by terraces, sidewalk cafes and retail, as well as creative lighting and public art.

“Booker Creek is going to become, really, one of the centerpieces of the community,” Morton said.

Tropicana Field in the foreground with the City of St. Petersburg in the background. View is looking east. SCOTT KEELER | Times

While Booker Creek could become a north-south draw for tourists and shoppers, a proposed pedestrian promenade would offer a similar draw running east-west through the district, with retail options and a community-vibe.

“We have a big belief in this being a regional attraction,” Morton said, referencing the estimated 1.5 million visitors who annually visit the area for Rays games. “We have to find a way to attract people here to come do other things.”

Other aspects of the Gas Plant plan include adding a variety of housing options, DeLisle said, especially affordable housing to address one of the region’s most pressing needs. The goal is for new housing to hit on all sizes and price points.

Another idea that connected with Monday night’s crowd was the potential of reconnecting the St. Petersburg neighborhoods divided from the rest of the city by Interstate 175. Right now, I-175 splits off from I-275 and has created a concrete barrier dividing neighborhoods such as Campbell Park south of the Trop from the economic development surrounding the dome.

“The success of the Gas Plant Site is going to be directly connected to reconnecting some of these communities that have been separated,” Morton said.

Monday’s full presentation will be posted to the city’s website Tuesday morning, staff said.

A conceptual model of a redevelopment the 85-acre Tropicana Field site with a new baseball stadium. The open-air stadium on model is just a placeholder. HKS isn’t charged with designing a new stadium, just a master plan for the site. [HKS, Inc.]
DeLisle said the city is “on a fast-track with this planning process” because it had already gathered plenty of public input in drafting the plan that includes a baseball stadium. The city expects to have fewer community outreach meetings during this planning round, but looks to hold meetings with smaller group over the next two months.

Staff and HKS Architects will present a more complete master plan for the site to city council in October, DeLisle said.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.