Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton is considering contracting with a sports consulting firm to figure out the future of Major League Baseball in the county, even if the city of St. Petersburg doesn’t sign on to the consulting contract.
Burton told the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners Tuesday that he thinks it would be worthwhile to hire the consulting firm to determine the financial aspects of a new stadium deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, especially under a split-season scenario where the team would play half its games locally and half in Montreal.
“The use of Tropicana Field is not our decision, but we are always going to be a major funder in any kind of package for the Rays. I don’t know how much. You’ve asked me before, with a part-time stadium, how much? Well, I don’t have an economic impact analysis. Those are discussions that need to occur,” Burton told county commissioners.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said last month that he would not move forward with hiring the consultant, after Stu Sternberg, the Rays principal owner, was sued by limited partners who alleged Sternberg schemed to squeeze them out of ownership. The Rays have denied the allegation.
Kriseman said the allegations against Sternberg made it impossible for him to negotiate with the team, although Kriseman is moving ahead with separate plans to choose a master developer to redevelop the Tropicana Field site.
Before the lawsuit was filed, Kriseman and Burton had agreed to hire Inner Circle Sports, a New York-based boutique investment bank focused on the global sports, media and entertainment industries. The company, headed by David Abrams, would be tasked with developing a financial model for a stadium deal that would make sense for the city, the county and the Rays.
“There’s a handful of people out there who have negotiated these multi-billion dollar deals across the country. David Abrams is one of them. Having that expertise is key. We’re hopeful he can work with the team and get clarity,” Burton said. “Just since I’ve been here, we’ve heard proposals and ideas, but we’ve never seen anything in writing. Beginning to get stuff down on paper is the key.”
Still, Burton said he’s gone back and forth on hiring the firm because so many elements of a deal are related to the city.
“I’m not sure how much we’re gonna get done,” Burton conceded. “I hesitated, but I hate to lose momentum over the next four to five months.”
County commissioners previously granted Burton the authority to sign contracts. An initial proposal with Inner Circle Sports called for five months’ work for $100,000, Burton said, and the city negotiated that down to about $80,000. Burton said he would expect a contract between Inner Circle and the county not to exceed $100,000.
Several commissioners indicated they were supportive of Burton going ahead with a contract.
“I think it would give us a leg up, so that whatever happens — the next mayor coming in, the lawsuit is settled — we would have some necessary information we need to move forward,” said Commissioner René Flowers. “I just hope they evaluate the dollar value they are going to charge us for the study, based on the time and the information that is already out there. It’s not like they’ve got to dig it up.”
Burton also said he talked to Kriseman before raising the issue in the county commission meeting.
“Frankly, he may choose to join us at the table if some of those other issues are resolved,” Burton said.