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Clearwater inches closer to the plate in Phillies talks

Veronica Brezina

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The BayCare Ballpark. Image: Clearwater Threshers Facebook page.

The Clearwater BayCare Ballpark has long served as the spring training headquarters of the Philadelphia Phillies. After decades of playing in the city, the Major League Baseball team is proposing to revamp the site – pending approval from the city. 

The baseball franchise desires to upgrade and expand the spring training facilities, as its term of the current lease approaches this year; however, the city requires consulting services to advise and guide its negotiations with the team. 

During a Monday Clearwater City Council work session meeting, during which staff reviews agenda items before they head to the City Council’s desk, the members are pushing forward a pre-approved ranking of competing consulting firms for negotiation services between the city and the Phillies. 

The top pick, vetted by a committee to spearhead the negotiations, is ICON Venue Group, doing business as Creative Artists Agency (CAA) ICON. 

The group previously engaged with the Phillies (as a sub-consultant to Hilltop Securities) in 2019 to assist the city in discussions and negotiations. The prior engagement provides the group “with a base understanding of the situation and key stakeholders” which will allow them “to immediately begin the process,” according to the ICON proposal. 

The other competing consultation firms include HR&A Advisors Inc. (ranked No. 2) and GrayRobinson PA (ranked No. 3). 

Dallas-based Sports Value Consulting LLC submitted a proposal, but it was not among the shortlisted firms. The competing consultants had to submit bids by March 30. The groups presented their plans to city staff last week. 

City staff evaluated the proposals and ranked them based on three categories of information: Responsiveness (the proposal includes all of the required attachments), responsibility (the past performance of the group, references and compliance with laws) and technicality (how well the proposal meets requirements and addresses the needs of the project). 

Once the City Council gives the final nod to the rankings, the city can enter an agreement with the selected consultant. 

The BayCare Ballpark. Image: Clearwater Threshers Facebook page.

Inside the proposals: All of the proposals can be found in the backup materials of the agenda item. 

ICON:  ICON claims to be the world’s leading owner’s representative and strategic management consulting firm for public and private sports, entertainment and public assembly facility owners/operators, professional franchises and leagues. The group has worked on more than 55 sports, entertainment and public assembly projects and has managed the development of  venues for 11 professional sports leagues.  

As a leading example in its portfolio, ICON cited its work with the City of San Diego in 1998 when the city was looking to redevelop 26 blocks, located in an area described as an abandoned industrial wasteland, with a new baseball stadium and ancillary development. ICON supported the city and its legal team in structuring their deal with the San Diego Padres team.

The redevelopment includes Petco Park (home of the Padres), hotels, residential units and retail and office space valued at over $3 billion.

In early 2019, the Centennial Authority, owner of PNC Arena, also engaged CAA ICON to provide consulting services in connection with lease extension discussions with the Carolina Hurricanes (the lease at PNC Arena was set to expire in June 2024). 

Another example included ICON’s work as lead negotiator for the City of Sacramento in structuring a deal with the National Basketball Association (NBA) and its new ownership group, the Sacramento Kings. 

As it relates to the scope of work for Clearwater and the Phillies, ICON says it would provide a detailed deal structure/lease analysis comparison for MLB teams/spring training facilities. ICON would prepare a comprehensive review and evaluation of comparable spring training deal structures and leases and provide case studies for each transaction that will include development overviews, sources/uses of funds (including a breakdown of public versus private investment) and lease summaries. It would also determine the team’s total occupancy costs as a percentage of estimated spring training facility revenues, gross gate receipts and net gate receipts, among other measurements. 

ICON said it is not able to provide a detailed timeline and provide exact estimated costs, but disclosed it would bill the city $35,000 per month (as described in the city’s advertisement) for a minimum of three months ($105,000 in total fees), plus reimbursement for all incurred expenses.

All of the firms included hourly rates in the proposals. 

HR&A Advisors: The advisory firm, known for its negotiations support services for public and private sector clients, is the same group working with the City of St. Petersburg to negotiate deal terms of a partnership with the Hines and the Tampa Bay Rays for the 86-acre Tropicana Field/Gas Plant District redevelopment. 

The group’s experience includes other significant projects in the surrounding metro. HR&A is working with Clearwater to reposition over 66 acres of its downtown waterfront through the Imagine Clearwater initiative. HR&A is currently leading the planning and development of Moffitt Cancer Center’s transformational innovation district in Pasco County. The firm was also selected to study future non-aviation uses at the 100-acre Albert Whitted Airport site in St. Petersburg. 

With Clearwater, the group would serve as an owner’s representative for the city.

HR&A would identify key terms, concerns, and requirements from the city to the project manager, including issues identified during the term of the engagement such as expected project implementation timelines, financing, risk minimization and compensation.

The group is requesting an initial $100,000 budget. The budget would support the project team for approximately three to four months to undertake coordination efforts, initial due diligence, develop key business terms and other tasks. 

GrayRobinson PA: GrayRobinson is a multidimensional team of attorneys, advisors, and consultants that provide integrated legal, lobbying and regulatory services.

Julia Mandell would be the team lead for the negotiations. She currently serves as the General Counsel to the Tampa Sports Authority. Mandell successfully negotiated the contract between the Tampa Sports Authority and the XFL to bring the sports franchise to Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium. Additionally, she worked with NFL leadership to renegotiate for Super Bowl LV at the stadium. 

Like the other competing firms, GrayRobinson said it would hold initial workshop meetings with city staff to understand the immediate goals. GrayRobsin would determine points to be addressed in the negotiation phase, and work with the city to determine the viability of any objective or proposal it considers rejecting.

The firm said it is able to secure the support of elected officials best positioned, based on subject matter area and expertise, to champion specific priorities. GrayRobsinson would also engage with key representatives who may oppose certain priorities.

With the approval of the city, the group would reach out to key members of the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council and AMPLIFY Clearwater to seek their input on their goals and establish or enhance the lines of communication.

It would also help guide the city for the necessary engagement for financing, lobbying, real estate or construction counsel.

The group listed hourly rates ranging from $200 to $500, and noted in addition to the professional services, it would bill the city for disbursements and incurred out-of-pocket expenses.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    KAREN J. DOUGLAS

    May 15, 2023at3:33 pm

    None of these proposals will keep the ticket costs down. Best part of Class A ball in Florida is the ticket prices are reasonable. If they choose to developer that already built a 3.2 Billion complex, how will a $20 ticket even happen. Sigh

  2. Avatar

    Sean

    May 15, 2023at11:13 pm

    None of the full report links were active, 404 error it said. We’re the full proposals ever imbedded? It’d be ideal for the community to read – Thanks in advance!

  3. Avatar

    Steven

    May 16, 2023at9:29 am

    Proposal links are broken.

    • Veronica Brezina

      Veronica Brezina

      May 16, 2023at10:05 am

      Hi Steven, the links to the separate proposals were removed. I have provided a link to the agenda item where the proposals can be viewed and downloaded.

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