St. Petersburg City Council members postponed allocating $1.25 million to Tropicana Field redevelopment consultants due to the inclusion of a new entity and a lack of financial information.
The council voted 5-2 at its Nov. 30 meeting to defer the item until Dec. 7. City officials said the information was unlikely to become available by next week.
The funding is part of a service agreement with Inner Circle Sports. The consultancy firm has negotiated with the Tampa Bay Rays on behalf of city and Pinellas County administrators since 2021.
Councilmember Ed Montanari was the first to question a new company included in the contract. City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch said the term “StadCo” would likely serve as a placeholder name “for an entity that will be newly formed – that to our knowledge has not been newly formed.”
“We really can’t speak to the exact details of it,” Kovilaritch added. “It’s our understanding that it would be the entity that would also enter into the development and funding agreement, as well as the operating agreement.”
She explained those contracts would include multiple organizations, but StadCo would oversee the primary agreement. Kovilaritch said previously established guarantees would protect the city.
Montanari noted that city officials dealt with one organization when building Tropicana Field. Kovilaritch said the procedure is “typical” in more recent stadium deals.
She believes StadCo would act as a Rays affiliate and said those discussions are ongoing. Public background documents occasionally mention an unnamed third party but not the name StadCo.
Montanari confirmed the tentative moniker’s spelling after the meeting.
Kovilaritch also said approving the Inner Circle agreement would not commit city officials to working with the new entity. However, multiple council members expressed separate concerns with David Abrams, their lead consultant at the firm.
Councilmember Richie Floyd said Abrams worked on a “terrible” stadium agreement between the City of Miami and the Florida Marlins. Floyd said he was embarrassed to reward someone “willing to put their name on a deal that bad” with a long-term contract.
Voters recalled the mayor who oversaw the project, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) launched a four-year investigation into whether the Marlins intentionally misled bond buyers. The SEC declined to file criminal charges or issue fines.
City Administrator Rob Gerdes said Abrams “stated that one of the main flaws with the financing structure in Miami was that there were inflated debt payments towards the end of the contract agreement. And that, essentially, he was instructed by his client to structure the debt service in that manner.”
Kovilaritch said Abrams could not provide information regarding StadCo by the Dec. 7 meeting. Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz said Abrams has worked on enough stadium agreements to explain how it would function.
In addition to StadCo’s cash flow model and revenue streams, Hanewicz remained steadfast in her quest to hear the net present value of the land surrounding the stadium. The Rays offered $105 million for 65 acres in the Historic Gas Plant District, payable at a future date.
Councilmember Gina Driscoll decried a lack of dialogue and accountability with the consultant. She noted Abrams participated in a recently scheduled meeting with city officials via Zoom.
“I don’t need a cell phone number,” Driscoll said. “I just need him to be available.”
Gerdes took responsibility for fostering those relationships and said Abrams expressed his openness to one-on-one conversations. City officials have spent $756,725 on consultancy services over the past three years.
“We don’t anticipate to come back in the future and ask for additional funds,” Gerdes said. “We believe this is the last agreement with Mr. Abrams.”
Montanari, Floyd, Hanewicz, Driscoll and Vice Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders voted to defer the $1.25 million allocation to the Dec. 7 meeting. Councilmember Copley Gerdes and Chair Brandi Gabbard voted “no,” with Councilmember John Muhammad absent.