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Rays stadium discussion dates spark debate

Mark Parker



St. Petersburg city officials prepare for a May 9 workshop on the Historic Gas Plant's Redevelopment. The mayoral administration postponed the corresponding discussion on a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark. Photo by Mark Parker.

A makeup date to discuss plans for a new $1.3 billion ballpark in downtown St. Petersburg caused Thursday evening’s city council meeting to conclude on a contentious note.

The meeting marked the council’s first since a nine-hour May 9 workshop regarding the Historic Gas Plant District’s $6.5 billion redevelopment. A new Tampa Bay Rays stadium will anchor the 30-year project.

Mayor Ken Welch’s administration postponed a subsequent discussion – planned for May 23 on stadium operating agreements – midway through the May 9 meeting. Administrator Rob Gerdes said Thursday that the plan now is to host the stadium workshop from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. June 13, followed by a 5 p.m. city council meeting.

That would offer the first public hearing regarding development agreements and zoning amendments. Gerdes said the council could then vote on the generational project July 11.

Councilmember Ed Montanari, who requested the update, called the schedule “aggressive.” Gerdes said the council could expect condensed presentations at the upcoming workshop to save time, and 50 minutes of unplanned and ardent debate ensued.

“Do you want us to get it right, or do you just want us to get it done,” asked Councilmember Gina Driscoll. “The reason that we took nine hours last Thursday wasn’t because the presentations were too long. It’s because our city council hasn’t had the opportunity to discuss this with each other in public since October.

“We left with more questions than answers.”

The project features several public plazas and gathering spaces surrounding a new stadium (upper left).

The council was nearly unanimous in its disdain for holding a public hearing immediately after discussing the stadium development agreements for the first time. Councilmember Richie Floyd expressed his “incredible frustration” with the timeline and was the first to suggest holding another Committee of the Whole meeting between the workshop and a final vote.

That would allow city officials and the Ray/Hines development team to discuss agreement changes. Driscoll referred to the documents presented May 9 as drafts, and Gerdes said the Gas Plant’s legally binding contracts are about 95% complete.

He said the public-private partnership is “not at that point yet” with stadium documents. Gerdes plans to provide those to the council two weeks before the June 13 meeting.

Driscoll – considered one of the eight-person council’s swing votes – said she left a “productive” May 9 meeting feeling “optimistic” and “positive.” She called the latest update a red flag.

“We’ve got to start doing this differently because I’m starting to get really worried about this deal,” Driscoll added. “I don’t want to go the other way – but I’m not going to be a fool, either. Let’s get this right.”

Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz said city administrators and the development team should complete their agreements before the workshops or public hearings. She and Floyd blamed arbitrary deadlines for unnecessarily rushing an arduous process.

Hanewicz noted that she is the council’s only attorney and still found it difficult to parse through myriad legal documents. Councilmember Brandi Gabbard asserted that every person on the dais can comprehend the contracts.

“Are they perfect? Hell no,” Gabbard said. “Nothing that comes is perfect. But do not sit here and insult the intelligence of this council … I have been tracking changes on these documents for months.”

Councilmember Copley Gerdes said he would like to see the Gas Plant’s latest redevelopment agreement and discuss stadium plans before holding a public hearing. Gabbard suggested holding the workshop June 11 and the council meeting June 13.

Administrator Gerdes, Copley’s uncle, said that would push a stadium vote to July 25. He must also ensure that Rays, Hines and Pinellas County officials can accommodate the continuously evolving timeline and negotiations.

Council Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders said she and her colleagues could “talk about this from now until next year if that is the will of the body.” However, she also noted that they approved the two-week advance on development agreements.

The mood lightened as the discussion continued. Hanewicz said she spoke from personal experience and that documents are complex – “even if you have some training.”

Figgs-Sanders agreed but expressed confidence that the council would “make it work.” A city spokesperson confirmed Friday that the stadium workshop would occur June 13. A date for the subsequent public hearing remains undetermined.








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  1. Avatar


    May 20, 2024at6:32 am

    All this is window dressing from the City Council. This is a bad deal that they decided to really do their homework on after the fact. This a play out of the non citizen vote Florida Marlins stadium .. My question is where and who did St. Pete get the funding from to start initial payments.. ? TAX PAYERS.. if this thing is not put on a ballot for it to be voted on by the local citizens then all of them on the council should be recalled and removed and that’s to include also the Mayor and Vice Mayor.

  2. Avatar

    Freddy Cuevas

    May 19, 2024at12:26 pm

    The fact that the Mayor gave the OK on this deal makes me question his decision making abilities. I’m really beginning to regret my vote for him. We are at a point in time where the City needs capable, strong minds at the table and we are just handing land over to billionaires. The same billionaires who didnt keep promises in the first place…why would they do so now? Not a good look for this administration.

  3. Avatar

    Steve D

    May 19, 2024at8:23 am

    Rather than pay much attention to the self -appointed taxpayer curmudgeons commenting here, who are always against everything, I suggest listening to experienced professionals:

    They would also have you believe that “nobody is for this deal:

  4. Avatar

    Vela Lee Heraty

    May 18, 2024at7:30 pm

    Well said commenters. I know of absolutely no one who supports this land grab. It’s good to know people are waking up to the incredible greed of R/H cabal. Great to read Alan DeLisle, our former city administrator, share his voice of reason and experience. Everything Hal Freedman shared resonated with me too. Very relieved to see Driscoll finally waking up. My ten cents…It would be wise for the early bandwagon crowd to be silent, admit poor judgement and support your community, future votes depend on it. There are so many eyes on this now I’d be shocked if this insulting proposal was approved. Finally, a suggestion for all involved, study the Pier redevelopment fiasco that was 60 million over budget on a pier the people didn’t vote for as a template for what NOT to do and who NOT to do it with.

  5. Avatar

    Tom Tito

    May 18, 2024at5:42 pm

    City Council needs to vote no on this and take another year to negotiate a fair deal for citizens. We should offer to extend their lease one year so there is no mad rush to vote on a complex document without time to understand it.

  6. Avatar


    May 18, 2024at4:22 pm

    At the end of the day, NONE of the people in any of these positions will be here when this project plays out. I can only hope it has the same positive impact as removing lanes on 1st Ave N&S and the complete tear up of Central Ave with medians placed where you can’t turn in to local businesses. Feeling real good about this!

  7. Avatar

    Victoria Vanhoose

    May 18, 2024at3:44 pm

    Contact your Council member and tell them to vote NO!
    Demand A Stop Now!

  8. Avatar


    May 18, 2024at2:25 pm

    Mayor Welch has given lip service to making up for the disregarded promises of the original Trop. However, if this deal goes through, so-called affordable housing may never come to fruition. The penalty for NOT building affordable housing is so small as to be laughable, even with the small increase that showed up at the workshop. The Carter Woodson Museum may never be built, if the organization can’t raise $20-$30 million for construction in order to get the $10 million promised by the developer. The Weekly Challenger, the main newspaper of the African-American community, had some scathing things to say about this deal. Is Mayor Welch listening?

  9. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    May 18, 2024at12:15 pm

    Ken Welch has made this deal the center-of-gravity for his administration. He has brought this deal to use from Kreismann’s trash bin and hasn’t won the people of St. Pete a single concession from the Rays.

    Recall Welch Now!

  10. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    May 18, 2024at7:58 am

    Gabbard, stop with the nonsense. First of all, you are not a lawyer. Second, stop insulting the public with your ridiculous rationalization that all deals have problems. You are simply trying to cover up how bad the deal really is because you gave in way too early and now you’re stuck. You got played. Glad to see Gina starting to do her thing.

    And lastly Gabbard, please stop acting like being a real estate agent makes you an expert on economic development. Two vastly different skill sets.

    Worst deal for a city that I have seen in 45 years of economic development. City Council please don’t let St Pete go from being the shining example of excellence to the brunt of national jokes. City staff, be courageous because your careers will suffer if you don’t.

  11. Avatar

    Steven Brady

    May 18, 2024at7:30 am

    How can anyone believe the underlying premise for this very expensive long-term drain on public tax dollars that people move to be near professional sports teams. Or that companies do that.

    That is a complete fiction.

    I’m only 62, and I haven’t lived everywhere, but I’ve never known any person or business that has moved to an area because of a professional sports team. Or that it’s even within the top 10 reasons why a person or company would do that.

    No one knows anyone who’s done that. Think about your own life. Know anyone who’s moved here or anywhere because there is a professional sports team?

    You don’t because it’s never happened.

    Think how foolish you would think someone is if that was the reason they told you. It’s laughable.

    The vested interests and paid consultants who are deeply financially conflicted with the interests of the taxpayers still bandy about this claim. We’ve heard it so much people take it on faith that it must be true.

    How many people even go to the games anymore? My understanding it’s mainly a TV sport now.

    Now think about this. Name a single city where one of these deals has worked out for the taxpayers or the community.

    Governments aren’t good at much. They really aren’t good at deals like this.

    If it makes sense, private industry will do it on its own. If there is truly demand for it.

  12. Avatar


    May 17, 2024at6:10 pm

    How we get so far away from the goal? Because they keep moving the goalposts!!! This high pressure deal is going to blow up in taxpayers faces. Rays- have not committed to staying in StPete ( no contractual commitment) but they have City Administration pushing city council to read 375 pages of documents, presentations and impact reports in 7 days and 8 hours to talk about publicly for a 40 year non reversible deal… sounds legit ( Not)

  13. Avatar

    Bill Parker

    May 17, 2024at5:54 pm

    There’s no new cards to flip over on this deal. It’s as clear as day that it betrays the financial safety of generations living here and offers nothing but risk and ZERO rewards.
    The team & supporters keep telling us what a great partner they are, but haven’t made a *single* concession.
    Any public official supporting this fiasco is either too incompetent to hold office or 100% corrupt.
    The public needs to keep speaking up loudly and strike down this crazy giveaway .

  14. Avatar


    May 17, 2024at5:36 pm

    “Councilmember Brandi Gabbard asserted that every person on the dais can comprehend the contracts.”

    That doesn’t seem to be the case at all.
    Brandi Gabbard is a real estate professional.
    I wonder if she’s ever sold a piece of land for $174,000,000 less than its appraised value?
    Again, One Hundred and Seventy Four MILLION dollars less than the value.
    She would lose her professional Real Estate Broker’s license for malfeasance.

    Under Florida Statutes Section 475.25, a real estate broker can face various forms of discipline for engaging in dishonest transactions, fraud, false promises, negligence, breach of trust, schemes, etc.

    Brandi Gabbard should know, more than anyone else on city council, that this deal is a fraudulent scheme just based on the real estate wealth transfer alone.

  15. Avatar


    May 17, 2024at4:40 pm

    Each meeting results in my feeling that this is a bad deal for the citizens of Pinellas county and St. Petersburg but a great deal for the Rays. Let the citizens vote!

  16. Avatar

    Brad McCoy

    May 17, 2024at3:56 pm

    Hines just paused a large development project in San Diego. Their reasoning – economic conditions.

    Why does this deal allow so much freedom to the developers all while taking hundreds of millions in tax payer dollars?!

    If they are getting hundreds of millions in tax payer money, they should be accountable to us and not get freedom to do the bare minimum over the next few decades.

    Our city council members need to be reminded that they are accountable to the people. They are not their to vote for their wants and they are not there to vote for the developers wants. They work for the people and this deal rips off the people.

  17. Avatar


    May 17, 2024at3:43 pm

    Renegotiate a deal that brings a fair return to what the taxpayers invest. Council’s members need to ask themselves before they vote “Would I do this deal if it was my money?”
    Don’t let the Rays hold the City hostage by their threats to leave St Petersburg. Tampa Bay is a fast growing area and the Rays will benefit from the central location St Pete offers.
    Also, why doesn’t the City get a portion of the stadium naming rights? Why sell the Rays land for less than its market value?
    I like baseball and would like to see the team stay in St Pete, but not at any cost!

  18. Avatar

    Karyn Mueller

    May 17, 2024at2:47 pm

    In addition to the stadium subsidy, the citizens of St Petersburg are being asked to provide a subsidy in the amount of $130,000,000 to Rays/Hines for the real estate development of the 60 acre parking lot.

    This subsidy is for infrastructure and can be used for many things including demolition, due diligence, etc.

    Last week they added a $12,000,000 lift station for the development that the public will also be responsible for.

    The land was appraised for $279,000,000 in 2021. Rays/Hines is purchasing it for $105,000,000. That’s a $174,000,000 discount off the appraised price.

    Why is the public subsidizing the real estate development to the tune of $316,000,000?

    We are not sharing in any of the profits. We are acting as a development partner and paying for the upfront costs of land and infrastructure without any profit sharing.

    The proponents are trying to say we are getting all these things we wouldn’t otherwise like Class A Office Space. However, there is only a requirement to build 133,000 SF of office space in the first 10 years. The new Orange Station/The Central will provide 125,000 SF of Class A office space so we won’t get much more than that building in the first 10 years.

    The proponents then say we will receive property tax revenue. Any development of that site would generate property tax revenue. We don’t have to give a developer $304,000,000 to get property tax revenue.

    Rays/Hines only has to pay $50,000,000 toward the $105,000,000 purchase price in the first 12 years which amounts to $4.4 million/year. This is a terrible deal for the public. Contact your Council member and tell them to vote NO!

    Demand A Stop Now!

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