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Downtown St. Petersburg’s commercial landscape could be in for big changes in years to come, based largely on a multimillion-dollar proposal to turn the city’s longtime spring-training baseball stadium into a permanent big-league venue. The Tampa Bay Rays want to rebuild Al Lang Field into a 34,000-seat, open-air ballpark as the centerpiece of a $1-billion redevelopment program within the central business district.

The estimated $450-million cost of the new stadium, to be topped by a retractable roof, would be funded partly by the sale and redevelopment of Tropicana Field, the Rays’ current indoor home on 86 acres near Interstate 275 in a nearby industrial zone. The new stadium is intended to open in time for the 2012 baseball season. Rays spring-training games will move to Port Charlotte next year.

Besides raising all sorts of speculation about mixed-use developments that would replace Tropicana Field, all the new-stadium talk is raising prospects for existing office buildings within the St. Petersburg CBD, several of which are in the vicinity of Al Lang Field.”It would have a positive effect on all commercial real estate in St. Petersburg,” says Russ Sampson, executive VP of Colliers Arnold in Tampa.

Statistically, St. Petersburg’s office market could use a boost lately, with vacancy having fallen as low as 5% in 2005 but ending last year at 11.9%, according to Colliers Arnold estimates. The newest major office construction in many years is the 16-story Progress Energy Florida headquarters, which added 211,000 sf to the city’s inventory.

However, that single-tenant structure isn’t the cause of the vacancy increase. Lutz Real Estate Investments reclassified its 135,000-sf 100 Bay Central building, originally a retail structure, to class A office status. The 35-story Signature Place condominium tower under construction Downtown is also expected to add 40,000 sf of office condos this year.

“It’s one more exciting Downtown amenity that could be a benefit to office leasing,” notes Ken Heretick, president of Vector Commercial Real Estate Services LLC and chairman of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership.

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