In an articled published on Tampa Bay Times website on January 15, 2020, authors Josh Solomon and Jay Cridlin provide updates regarding the future of Tropicana Field as well as the perspective of its past. The city has received eight bids from what will be a “master developer” of the 87 acres comprising the site, which includes the leased baseball stadium home to the Tampa Bay Rays. The current mayor, Mayor Rick Kriseman, will select from the options before he leaves office in January 2022, though the article pointed to the future mayoral candidates’ option to alter his choice.
Although the developer’s bids have not yet been released, one company, Unicorp National Developments, has provided insight on its proposal. Unicorp has many well-known developments in the Orlando, Florida area, including ICON Park, O-Town West, and an upcoming Orlando Fashion Square mall, among others. Its president, Chuck Whittall, said that he instructed his team to “think of this as building a community.” Unicorp’s proposal includes new parks, retail areas, expansion of Booker Creek, and a new Tropicana Field stadium. Whittall stressed that their aim was not to create a dense development, and he is conscious of the area’s past and the overall feeling regarding the area.
In the 1980s, the area was known as the Gas Plant District, a predominantly Black working-class neighborhood centralized around a natural gas production facility. The area was leveled, displacing families, businesses, churches and schools that had been integral to the community for decades, to make way for the then-called Florida Suncoast Dome. Those who did not sell to the city were forced out through the power of eminent domain. At the time, it was believed that once a national baseball team would make the dome its home, economic growth would ensue, benefitting those displaced. In 1998, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays made it its home, but the economic growth in the area did not materialize.
Whittall recognizes this fact, and his company’s proposal has the intention of giving “back to the community…something the entire community could use” and designed “around the park and gathering spaces, and things we felt would benefit the community.” That is, in essence, what ‘public use’ should amount to, though it often simply translates to increased tax revenue for a municipality from developed land. In this case, the land is publicly owned, but its privately-owned history is not forgotten by its former residents.
City officials also recognize this and have proposed some form of agreement where the tax revenue generated in the new area would be used to combat poverty in the city’s poorest areas, presenting at least an attempt to rectify the issues that arise when land is taken through eminent domain. That is, as it was in this case, the public does not always benefit when land is taken through this governmental power, though it is supposed to. In some cases, a project is not completed or does not live up to its promises to benefit its community directly or indirectly, as recently blogged.
Mayoral candidate Darden Rice is “hopeful that this process will yield good proposals” but she is “not going to settle for anything less than this city deserves, which is the best.” Only time will tell if the city lives up to its original promise to the residents of the former Gas Plant District.