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St. Pete residents will not vote on Rays stadium deal

Mark Parker

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Despite the St. Petersburg City Council voting 5-3 Thursday to discuss a Tampa Bay Rays stadium straw poll, residents will not have a chance to take a nonbinding vote on the agreement. Screengrab from city documents.

While committee referrals typically pass without discussion, a motion to consider conducting a public straw poll on a Tampa Bay Rays stadium deal sparked extensive, passionate debate.

The St. Petersburg City Council voted 5-3 today to discuss putting plans for a $1.3 billion stadium on municipal ballots at a Nov. 9 Committee of the Whole meeting. Those referrals require a six-person supermajority approval, and the motion failed.

Every council member voiced support for incorporating public feedback into momentous projects, like the $6.5 billion Historic Gas Plant District’s redevelopment. However, many also noted that they were elected to make tough decisions on behalf of constituents.

“There has been a lot of community input to get us to this point,” said Council Chair Brandi Gabbard. “And like some of my colleagues, I have concerns over how we get such a complex issue into 75 words.

“It just feels a little like a disingenuous act for us to throw this out there, and then it doesn’t even mean anything.”

Councilmember Richie Floyd requested the discussion. If approved through multiple meetings and submitted to the supervisor of elections by Dec. 19, residents could have voted on the stadium funding in the March 19, 2024, presidential primary election.

Floyd apologized for the short notice but said the vote would align with the development timeline. He also said a straw poll is “advisory” and nonbinding.

“Since this is a once-in-a-generation development, I do think it’s reasonable to solicit the broadest possible input and just have a conversation about this,” Floyd said. “I’m only asking for us to have one committee meeting to discuss the idea of getting resident feedback …”

Gabbard noted that the March 2024 election is a Republican primary, and 72% of city voters are Democrats, independents or have no party affiliation. She believes that would impede a broad turnout and called the extensive process a “fool’s errand.”

City Attorney Brett Pettigrew explained that ballot questions can feature a 15-word title and 75-word summary. Voters can only answer “yes” or “no.”

Like several of his colleagues, Councilmember Copley Gerdes thought those parameters were overly cumbersome for the nuanced project. The previously released term sheet is nonbinding, and he said officials would not complete a contractual development agreement until after the proposed vote.

“So, we’re talking about having a nonbinding vote on a nonbinding agreement,” Gerdes added. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Councilmember Ed Montanari used a stack of binders to illustrate the amount of information city officials must process on behalf of constituents. Screengrab.

Councilmember Ed Montanari dropped three massive binders of redevelopment paperwork on the dais to illustrate his point. He said residents elected him and his colleagues to read, study and process complex information on their behalf.

Montanari said a recent five-hour discussion on the redevelopment proved that the council is informed and would pose “hard questions” to the Rays/Hines development team and city administrators. “And I will never stop answering the hard questions,” he added.

However, Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz pushed back on the assertion that representative government precluded conducting a straw poll. She also noted that using obligation bonds – which allow municipalities to raise taxes – would have required a voter referendum.

Instead, the city’s administration will issue tax-exempt revenue bonds backed by project proceeds. Hanewicz questioned if simplified ballot language could ask if voters wanted officials to incur debt or forgo the ballpark aspect.

Pettigrew said that “would potentially be permissible,” but he would need more input from the council. “This is about public funding,” Hanewicz said. “I’m going to make that very clear.”

She called the project “the most expensive decision to date, by far, for the City of St. Petersburg’s City Council. If we’re going to borrow that much money using their tax dollars, then asking the voters their opinion in a nonbinding straw poll isn’t too much to ask, and it’s appropriate.”

While they did not support the straw poll, Councilmembers Gina Driscoll and Deborah Figgs-Sanders voted in favor of a committee discussion. Floyd and Hanewicz also approved the motion. Gabbard, Gerdes and Montanari dissented.

 

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    November 3, 2023at12:12 pm

    Write your City Council Rep. and ask them to vote No on this deal with the Rays.

  2. Avatar

    Kari Mueller

    November 3, 2023at10:50 am

    Watch the Committee of the Whole meeting held on October 26th and available to view under Recorded Meetings on St Pete TV.
    1) The land is valued at approximately $300 million, Hines is proposing to buy the land at $100 million after receiving hundreds of millions in price reductions for things like providing green space ($50M), grading Booker Creek ($15M), providing 120/units of affordable rentals/year ($25M), demolition ($8M), payment of developer’s Doc Stamp Taxes (1%), etc
    2) Most of the land won’t be purchased but rather reserved solely for Hines’ future purchase. Individual parcels will be purchased at the developer’s discretion without the city’s control on when that happens. Property Taxes won’t start being paid when the parcel is purchased but only once the building is completed and open for business. A HUGE LOSS of property tax/ad valorem revenue!
    3) The City is paying $132M in infrastructure costs for the developer. The city administration behind this deal and the developer act like it’s normal to have the infrastructure put in by the city. That is absolutely not true. Developers are supposed to fund any upgrades to infrastructure and roads due to increased traffic and demand on storm, water and sewer utilities as well as electrical power upgrades.
    4) The public is funding what appears to be at least 50% of the cost of building a new stadium PLUS is leasing the 17-20 acres to the team at no cost and foregoing any property taxes that would be earned otherwise. In exchange for this contribution, the City receives zero percent of the revenue and no naming rights.
    Don’t be desperate to finally start this project and subsequently sell out the city to become beholden to Hines for decades to come. Tell City Council to vote NO on the Hines/Rays deal. This will be a very close vote and you can absolutely have an impact on the outcome!

  3. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    November 3, 2023at8:33 am

    This deal is so bad that the city is paying $50 million in land value giveaways for Community Benefits that the Rays are taking credit for. I couldn’t make this up. Let’s just say it like it is:

    The City is paying for the site infrastructure, Community Benefits, open space, affordable housing and a disproportional share of the stadium. And the ancillary Development is minimal at best with weak requirements. It’s like having the Rays in the playoffs.

    A great city like St Pete deserves so much better.

  4. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    November 2, 2023at9:53 pm

    My concern is the overall benefit for the community/taxpayers. We already will have parking issues and transportation issues. We already have too many cars in our city. Where will the baseball fans park? We do not have any mass transportation benefits for the baseball fans. The more that I read the City Council discussions, the more worried I get. We already had neighborhood discussions, I attended one. I just do Not see the long term benefit here for the amount of funds being required.

  5. Avatar

    Donna Kostreva

    November 2, 2023at9:28 pm

    The recent juvenile “Halloween Display” at City Hall is indicative of the intellectual prowess, depth of thought, and poor judgement of those who presented, crafted, and approved the offensive display. These sane individuals are making deals that the taxpayers have to live with. We used to have government in the sunshine. This all seems secretive benefiting a select few. Who wind when we hand our city over to outside developers ?

  6. Avatar

    monah

    November 2, 2023at7:00 pm

    If it’s going ahead, at least have the architecture reflect the era and style of the demolished Gas Plant Neighborhood. It scares me that the Rays are in charge. The Trop is an eyesore, and the drawings they presented for the proposed Ybor stadium were equally horrendous! Can the city make sure someone qualified is overseeing the aesthetic aspects of the project? The renderings I’ve seen so far aren’t very reassuring.

  7. Avatar

    Danny E White

    November 2, 2023at5:39 pm

    At this juncture, the continued reliance upon public input on the redevelopment is like kicking the can down the road. Enough, already! City Council Members should hold town halls with their constituents to hear their concerns as this thing unfolds. Time for more decisions, not discussions!

  8. Avatar

    Velva Lee Heraty

    November 2, 2023at4:25 pm

    After the 90 million overrun on the new Pier council stands warned on what could happen in this momentous case. I advocate for as much public (Resident voter) input as possible. The city has already proven how easy it really is to spend Other Peoples Money. Montanari’s grandstanding signals his full commitment to be a running politician at voters expense.

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