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County tourism officials hear Rays stadium details

Mark Parker

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City Councilmember Ed Montanari compared a reimagined Booker Creek around a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark (top right) to San Antonio's Riverwalk at a recent St. Petersburg Republican Club event. Image provided.

Details surrounding the new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark continue emerging as elected officials – restricted from jointly discussing governmental matters by Florida’s “Sunshine Laws” – hear updates in official settings.

Local political and business leaders comprising Pinellas County’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) asked questions about the $1.3 billion proposal for the first time Wednesday morning. The TDC will eventually offer its approval or disapproval of contributing $312.5 million in funding designated for tourism uses to a new county-owned stadium.

County Administrator Barry Burton’s presentation on the development term sheet often mirrored his Oct. 12 discussion with county commissioners. However, St. Petersburg City Councilmember Copley Gerdes highlighted some municipal benefits for his TDC colleagues.

He and Burton stressed the importance of keeping a development agreement “simple” and letting the Rays control stadium operations. For example, Gerdes said the city paid nearly $900,000 to insure Tropicana Field this year, and the team will now foot that bill.

“We’re estimating that will be $4 million (annually) under the new stadium,” Burton interjected.

“You can say those things; I can’t,” Gerdes replied.

City Councilmember Copley Gerdes represents St. Petersburg on the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council. Screengrab.

Burton said city funding currently pays for external stadium security. The Rays will reimburse the city’s $400,000 annual cost moving forward.

Gerdes noted that city officials committed $130 million to necessary infrastructure upgrades estimated at around $200 million. He said tax increment bonds issued in four phases would cover St. Petersburg’s contribution, “and the Rays/Hines (development team) would be on the hook for the rest.”

Gerdes said the developers would build two parking garages during the redevelopment’s first phase. While unsure of the number of spaces those would provide, he said 2,500 of an eventual 14,000 “sounds about right.”

“They’re going to build one parking garage before they start development of the stadium,” Burton explained. “Because when you build the stadium, you’re going to lose parking … for the current operation for three years.”

The Rays have sole control over naming rights, and Gerdes believes those conversations will not occur until much later in the redevelopment process. Burton said stakeholders often question why the tentative deal eschewed certain potential government benefits.

“Believe me, we thought about it,” Burton added. “We started out with naming rights. We started out with ticket taxes … and simpler is better. It was a partnership – everybody gave.

“I can assure you, the (Rays/Hines’) ask was far greater.”

The $1.3 billion, 30,000-seat stadium will expand to 35,000 seats for year-round event programming. Rendering: Rays/Hines.

Gerdes said the new ballpark will feature separate public meeting areas away from the field. “So, you can actually split it off and have smaller events,” he added. “Right now, you can’t do that. In Tropicana Field, you have to open up the entire thing …”

Burton said a planned 750-room hotel “may or may not” connect to the ballpark. Either way, he expects crowds attending its year-round events will significantly increase the county’s sales and bed tax revenue.

“Not just gameday, non-gameday events are huge,” Burton said. “That will have a tremendous impact on tourism – people coming in for events and staying in hotels.”

Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward-Bujalksi noted that an agreement with the Toronto Blue Jays allows local high school teams to play at the Minor League Baseball and Spring Training facility. She asked if there were similar plans for the new stadium and said it could host statewide tournaments.

Gerdes said he and city administrators “want to make sure that happens.” He pledged that they would continue working to ensure students throughout Tampa Bay can play in a Major League ballpark.

The Rays will also provide 5,000 tickets to underserved kids throughout the county, a detail Burton previously shared at the commission’s work session. However, he announced that the team will also provide two luxury suites for city and county officials.

“We can use that for marketing,” Burton said. “We could use it for economic development and a variety of things … It will enhance our relationship with the Rays.”

Phil M. Henderson Jr., like many of his colleagues, commended Burton for his efforts. Henderson, president and CEO of Starlite Cruises, also offered a public apology for comments critical of the process during a September meeting discussing critical beach renourishment projects.

Gerdes said city administrators consistently credited Burton for “fighting hard for the county and the TDC” throughout the negotiation process. He also asked Burton to explain Visit St. Pete-Clearwater’s newly enhanced partnership with the Rays.

“Beginning with the 2024 – not 2028 – season, the (Rays) owner and the county will work towards a separate co-branding agreement to jointly promote the team,” Burton said. “We will also have a physical presence at the stadium … signage and an information center at a street-accessible level.”

 

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Layne B

    October 26, 2023at10:22 am

    Another terrible proposal that citizens in the area need to come out in force against. This is shoveling hundred of millions of public dollars to a group of billionaires.
    There’s guaranteed to be awful provisions hidden in the deal that will cost us even more, not to mention upgrades, loss of non-baseball event money, and so much more.

    Write your council members and mayor and shut this down.

  2. Avatar

    Jay

    October 22, 2023at1:10 pm

    I personally think the stadium should be in Tampa. But,having said that if this is how we keep our hometown team so be it.
    Growing up I lived in Brooklyn and we lost 2 teams because Robert Moses wouldn’t allow them to build new stadiums.

  3. Avatar

    Jeff Newcomb

    October 21, 2023at5:59 am

    I am looking forward to the new ballpark, I think this is a great step forward and currently I pay my taxes and never see any benefit from all that I pay out, so at least I will get to use something my taxes pay for!! I lived in a city where we the taxpayers funded 2 new sports facilities and both times they became a big economic success and helped the city’s bottom line even though it is a hard pill to swallow up front.

  4. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    October 20, 2023at5:11 pm

    “We wanted to keep it simple,” is another way of saying it’s a terrible deal. Been there, done that.

  5. Avatar

    Herb Segal

    October 20, 2023at3:58 pm

    I don’t think taxpayers should pay any part of the bill. You mention tax increment bonds. Who buys these?

  6. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    October 20, 2023at3:21 pm

    Don’t build this with public funds!
    The Rays can’t fill the seats, so city residents are going to be left footing the bill for construction bonds. Welch is a criminal.

  7. Avatar

    John Donovan

    October 19, 2023at3:35 pm

    Two suites? No luxury suite for city and county officials is needed. Team ownership can invite them to their suite if they wish. Team can provide some other common benefit if this is already in a signed contract or rewrite the contract. We also don’t need a plaque with politicians name on it unless they put up their own money to build the stadium. Any founding plaque should principally reference city and county taxpayers.

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