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Gas Plant attorney funding allotment nears $1 million

Mark Parker

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Legal fees stemming from the Historic Gas Plant District's redevelopment have increased exponentially. Photo by Mark Parker.

In February 2023, St. Petersburg city officials dedicated $250,000 to outside attorneys working on Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment agreements; the amount has since soared to $950,00.

City council members voted 6-2 March 21 to increase the maximum allowable allotment a second time. Brian Caper, economic and workforce development director, said Minnesota-based law firm Faegre Drinker would reach its $550,000 contract limit – approved Nov. 30 – by the end of this month.

City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch estimated that Faegre Drinker’s significantly discounted rate was around $525 per hour. Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz took issue with the increasing expenses.

“We are taking on these costs because there is a deadline,” Hanewicz said. “We want to get this deal done as soon as possible, and I think that’s what’s driving the cost.”

City documents dated Dec. 14 and recently obtained by the Catalyst assumed the council would approve agreements with the Tampa Bay Rays and Hines development team at the March 21 meeting. In February, administrators pushed the estimated date to sometime in May.

Rays’ leadership had previously stressed the importance of finalizing agreements in March to start construction on a $1.3 billion ballpark by November. Their lease at Tropicana Field terminates in 2027, and that would ensure a new facility is ready for baseball by Opening Day 2028.

Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz voted against accommodating increasing Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment legal fees. Screengrab.

Councilmember Brandi Gabbard noted that she and her colleagues received an electronic folder with draft documents before Thursday’s meeting. She called it “voluminous.”

“So, money well-spent to make sure that those documents protect our city,” Gabbard said. “Regardless of what the outcome is.”

Caper said administrators would transfer $400,000 from the city’s general fund to accommodate the new agreement with Faegre Drinker. He said they do not expect to seek additional money for attorney’s fees.

The council approved including a $1.79 million Gas Plant contingency fund in this year’s budget. Tom Greene, assistant city administrator, said about $1 million was for outside legal counsel.

Greene said the city has spent approximately $1.43 million through current and previous redevelopment processes. The latest contract increase would leave $604,000 in contingency funding.

Kovilaritch said the city’s legal department does not track the hours spent working on the $6.5 billion project. “But it’s more than a full-time job for us,” she added.

Hanewicz said Kovilaritch’s city council involvement has decreased due to redevelopment negotiations. Hanewicz believes spending nearly $1 million in outside attorney’s fees while also using in-house counsel full-time “tells you how complicated this is.”

“I, frankly, think the reason we’re doing this is because we are pushing this as fast as possible,” she said. “And we’re having to use outside counsel more than we need to.”

Councilmember Gina Driscoll said everyone could agree on the project’s complexity. She believes that underscores the need for additional assistance.

Kovilaritch and multiple council members noted that Faegre Drinker also has experience negotiating stadium deals. Driscoll said city officials are not “trying to do it fast; we’re trying to do it right.”

“To me, the more eyes that are on this, and the more people who are working on this – who are highly, highly qualified – the better off we are going to be when it gets to us,” Driscoll added. “On top of that, there’s other city business that needs to be tended to that we need our city attorney’s office to be handling for us.”

Hanewicz expressed her “full confidence” in city attorneys to oversee the process and city operations if given the proper amount of time. She and Councilmember Richie Floyd voted against increasing Faegre Drinker’s maximum allotment to $950,000.

 

 

 

 

 

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Adrian Gansen

    March 26, 2024at9:32 am

    Please tell me that the 6.5 billion price tag is a typo. My impression was the city was in it for about 1.6 billion. The cost of this project just keeps going up with no apparent accountability or explanation to the taxpayers. If $545/hr is a bargain, I can only imagine what other expense overruns will be incurred.

  2. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    March 26, 2024at6:16 am

    Can’t tell how often I have been there with complicated deals. It all comes down to how well you negotiate the Term Sheet upfront. The better you hammer out the complicated issues upfront, the less money you need to spend on the backend. This deal was handled so badly upfront.

    The Mayor and most of the City Council gave away all their leverage, folded on protecting city residents, and surrendered to the Rays and Wall Street. Except for a few, the Community Benefits Committee did the same thing.

    The City doesn’t need a lawyer to figure out what needs to be fixed: make the Rays pay for all infrastructure, make them pay a better price for land, require strong development requirements that guarantees tax revenue, take back control of how and when the development land can be sold to others and get a piece of the naming rights on the stadium.

    There, that advice is free.

    All the legal work in the world ain’t about to clean this mess up.

    The deal.

    Stay focused on the deal itself. All the rest is window shopping. Been there, seen this Music Man before. Stay strong St, Pete. You deserve so much better. Ignore those that receive money from the Rays and know marketing but not quality economic development.

  3. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    March 26, 2024at1:45 am

    My concern is the part of the deal that sells GasPlant land to the Rays. What protections for the City do we have in the sale??? Will the Rays be allowed to sell/lease the land to other entities???
    Exactly what is the hold up in the agreement? a please list them so that we, the Taxpayers, can know.

  4. Avatar

    Lyn Wilkinson

    March 25, 2024at8:49 pm

    Why do we want this deal done as soon as possible? During the discussion surrounding the Mid-Town deal in 2021, many city luminaries were quoted in this Creative Loafing article asking that same question. https://www.cltampa.com/news/old-wounds-and-big-promises-weigh-on-proposals-for-redevelopment-of-st-petes-tropicana-field-12441203

    The only need for rush is the Rays desire to execute their development rights before they expire in 2027. They are here to stay because that’s what the MLB wants. We can easily extend the lease on the Trop so the current deal, so much worse than any of those described in the CL article can be negotiated fairly and with full understanding of the consequences.

  5. Avatar

    Layne Boleman

    March 25, 2024at7:59 pm

    We don’t need lawyers to explain what a foolish, godawful disaster this “deal” represents for taxpayers and the citizens. Taking a billion dollars and giving it to a billionaire who doesn’t need it will do absolutely nothing to benefit anyone BUT the team.

    If this wasn’t a shameless cash grab, they wouldn’t need to rush it through with as little review as they can get away with.
    Sadly, some of our elected representatives are falling for the grift hook, line and sinker.

  6. Avatar

    Don goldberg

    March 25, 2024at6:20 pm

    And we can’t even get 62 Ave resurfaced and a good percentage of the city taxes come from the area

  7. Avatar

    Tim K

    March 25, 2024at5:12 pm

    That’s funny when did we the taxpayers sign a blank check to these billionaires

  8. Avatar

    Karyn Mueller

    March 25, 2024at3:12 pm

    The St Pete taxpayers do not need to fund outside counsel at a rate of $545/hour to rush the Rays/Hines deal through to the tune of another $400,000! Tax dollars should fund city services for residents!

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