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Councilmember asks state watchdog for Rays stadium input

Mark Parker



Florida Tax Watch noted the intangible benfits provided by hosting a professional sports team in its analysis of a Tampa Bay Rays stadium proposal. Image provided.

Florida Tax Watch, a nonprofit taxpayer research institute and self-billed government watchdog led by a former lieutenant governor, has entered the Tampa Bay Rays stadium debate.

The Tallahassee-based nonprofit – with several prominent state politicians and businesspeople comprising its leadership teams – released its 20-page examination of the ballpark proposal Tuesday. The report, dubbed “If You Build It, He Will Come,” follows a Feb. 14 email from St. Petersburg City Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz to former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp seeking the organization’s feedback.

Hanewicz wrote she would soon vote on whether to approve “the most expensive deal in the city’s history – the Historic Gas Plant Redevelopment.” A new $1.3 billion stadium will anchor the $6.5 billion project.

“As a city council member, I have my duty to do my due diligence on the deal,” Hanewicz told the Catalyst. “And I’m constantly getting feedback from individuals and organizations throughout our community – some of whom are unbiased and some that are biased.

“Why not get the perspective of an outside, independent organization that regularly performs taxpayer research for the benefit of Florida citizens?”

She attached links in her email to city websites describing the redevelopment and one outside organization – No Home Run. The small but vocal group led by two former Raymond James Financial executives vehemently opposes what they believe is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Florida Tax Watch (FTW) cited independent advisement firms hired by the city and Pinellas Couty. The nonpartisan organization also sourced op-eds from public opponents and the League of Women Voters.

“It should be expressly clear and understood that Florida Tax Watch is drawing no conclusion whether the proposed ballpark deal is good or bad,” wrote Kottkamp in his opening letter. “Rather, Florida Tax Watch is identifying those questions to be considered by local officials in determining whether the proposed ballpark deal is in the best interest of taxpayers in the Tampa Bay area and of baseball fans everywhere.”

The report noted that draft agreements are “fluid” amid ongoing negotiations. City spokesperson Erica Riggins confirmed that May 9 and 23 are “target dates” for the council to discuss details. Hanewicz said votes could occur June 6 and 13.

Current estimates project the city contributing $287.5 million from tax-exempt revenue bond sales to stadium construction. The county would provide $312.5 million in bed taxes designated for tourism development projects.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (right) and St. Petersburg City Councilmembers Lisset Hanewicz (center) and Ed Montanari talk at ThriveDTSP. Photo by Mark Parker.


The report repeatedly states that public contributions would cover “roughly one-half” of the stadium costs, although the Rays are responsible for $700 million and any cost overruns. It also notes the project’s pre- and post-construction economic impacts.

The report, accounting for lost revenues and opportunities, puts the city’s total cost at $1.6 billion. Citing an op-ed, it pegs the county at $809 million due to not developing the stadium site for “other private interests.”

FTW wrote that nearly all studies have found sports teams and facilities have “little to no tangible” local economic impact to warrant typically provided public subsidies. However, it adds that “there is evidence of important intangible social benefits …”

The analysis also found that the public cost share for 12 recently opened stadiums ranged from 37% to 100%. Two state projects were at 86% and 88%, respectively.

The median public share for those 12 stadiums is 52%. City and county administrators have capped the Rays ballpark’s public subsidies at 46%. “In this light, the cost-sharing proposal for the new Rays’ ballpark appears to be fair and reasonable,” FTW wrote.

“It’s like when I was a litigator – you have one side arguing for something and one side arguing against,” Hanewicz explained. “And there’s a jury that has to weigh all the facts provided to come up with a decision.

“It’s always good to see that other side. It never hurts.”

From left: Josie Scannell, 1; Amanda Scannell; Saylor Scannell, 3; Kristi Wright and Cindy Caccia attend the Tampa Bay Rays 2024 home opener, a family tradition. Photo by Mark Parker.

Benefits and Risks

Intangible benefits provided by hosting a professional sports team were a recurring theme at the report’s conclusion. FTW said not every public expenditure, like parks and libraries, should generate a positive return on investment.

“Having a Major League Baseball team in St. Petersburg is a ‘public good’ that creates civic pride and civic engagement … teams become symbols of their host communities and provide their fans with a sense of identity,” FTW added. “This breeds camaraderie and brings together fans with widely divergent demographics.”

The organization said a subsidized ballpark would generate “considerable consumer satisfaction” compared to other city investments. However, it also provided three recommendations that could help mitigate inherent risks.

FTW believes local officials should include clawback provisions that would help taxpayers recoup some financial losses should economic benefits fail to materialize. It also suggests incorporating a revenue-sharing agreement between the city, county and Rays.

The team would keep all proceeds from ticket sales, television rights and parking under the draft agreement. FTW also states that the 30-year stadium lease should include a non-relocation agreement to “sufficiently deter” the team from moving.

That document was not among 12 separate agreements obtained March 25 by the Catalyst. However, city officials have stated that it will be a part of the final proposal, and Ray’s leadership has repeatedly stressed its commitment to remaining in St. Petersburg for “generations.”

“The recommendations, frankly, are not new to me or shocking,” Hanewicz said. “So, I will use it in my analysis when I’m reviewing the final contract. I thought there was some really interesting information in the report. I had no idea what they were going to do.”



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  1. Avatar

    Paul Loverne

    April 11, 2024at8:56 pm

    Sometimes you have to spend some money to get something nice. These people commenting seem so afraid of spending money they’re never going to see any way. There are only so many cities with a sports franchise. Many cities have arts, museums, and other benign entities. Hope the Rays get the votes and are here to stay!

  2. Avatar

    John Donovan

    April 11, 2024at3:46 pm

    Rays wont cover cost overruns if they find they cant. Default, bankruptcy could leave a half-built stadium and other development if things don’t go well. Lets look closer at cost overruns. And the Rays still need to give St Peterburg more tangible value like team naming, ticket revenue share, and other items. Most or all of these may not require any out-of-pocket expense to Rays. The deal is too good for the Rays as it stands now. There are some giveaways in this project that look overly generous. Who benefits? Let’s name names. The TBT has reporters funded by some /all of non-profits, foundations, and NGOs. We can’t expect expect them to fully and impartially investigate this deal as they may be considered compromised. San Diego has a Gas Light district that is popular. ‘Gas Plant’ doesn’t sound as appealing. Does it? I’d very much like to see the project built with a better return and less risk, for the city of St Petersburg. (you and me)

  3. Avatar


    April 11, 2024at7:48 am

    Thank you Lisset Hanewicz for looking into this boondoggle the Rays have been foisting on us for years.

    Baseball is on the decline and we are talking about centering St Pete’s billion plus downtown investment around it? That’s absolutely ridiculous.

    It has taken 20 years and a lot of forward thinking to change the image of St Pete from “God’s waiting room”, which it was known as for decades, to a vibrant artistic community that young people are excited to call home and invest their lives in. Why would we go back on all that progress and center our city around a dying sport that only old white men care about?

    Save the money, develop the Gas Plant district at a reasonable pace and cost and let the wider community have a reason to invest their lives in this part of the city that has so much potential. Not to mention the traffic for games clogs up our streets even worse than they are.

    Also, why are we glossing over the stark fact that the recent WWE event at the Trop shattered Rays attendance numbers by over 100%. The Rays have struggled to bring in fans, setting a 104-year low for postseason baseball attendance last year.

    The Rays are a drain on the city: financially, logistically, AND socially. Give us our city back and stop bending the arm of the city leadership and the taxpayers. JUST LEAVE. Saint Petersburg is better without the Rays. FULL STOP

  4. Avatar


    April 10, 2024at8:01 pm

    What about including the Rowdies soccer team in the development plans for the 86 acre site. This would free up the old water front AL Lang stadium site for redevelopment. I think it’s underutilized and full of potential as open park land or perhaps the Saturday Morning Market could expand in size and days a week. Thinkaboutit.

  5. Avatar


    April 10, 2024at3:44 pm

    Rays are on the hook for $700 million and all cost over runs. The will probably agree to a no move clause of at least 20 years, so they’re committing payroll and jobs for that time.

    The Rays absolutely have skin in the game.

  6. Avatar


    April 10, 2024at3:12 pm

    Not a good deal with the Rays….they have minimal skin in the game!

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