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St. Petersburg moves closer to Rays stadium deal

Mark Parker

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St. Petersburg City Council members, administrators and Tampa Bay Rays officials discussed plans for a new $1.37 billion stadium Wednesday at City Hall. Photo by Mark Parker.

A seven-hour workshop Wednesday seemingly showed that the St. Petersburg City Council has enough votes to advance plans for a new $1.37 billion Tampa Bay Rays ballpark.

While some questions still need answers, and opposition to the public contribution remains, Mayor Ken Welch said he thought the meeting “went great.” It lacked many of a May workshop’s contentious moments – the overall mood was amicable, and the would-be public-private partners were jovial as it concluded.

The administration and Rays officials need five of eight council members to offer their approval. After the meeting, Welch said the goal is unanimous support.

“We’re not counting anybody out,” Welch told the Catalyst. “I’m not giving up on anybody. I think the case that this makes for moving our community forward is strong enough that it should earn every vote.”

The May workshop focused on redeveloping roughly 65 acres – now mostly surface parking lots – surrounding the 13-acre stadium site. Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting centered on about a dozen ballpark agreements.

Parking plans, environmental sustainability and weighing the project’s benefits against its public cost dominated discourse. City administrators and Rays officials had answers for most questions. They also had the benefit of hindsight.

“The whole point is to get feedback and comments from the council, to possibly strengthen the agreement,” Welch said. “We did that after the first COW, and we’ll do the same after this one.”

The council will receive a detailed list of revisions at a July 9 meeting, two days before a proposed vote. City administrators expect Pinellas County Commissioners to vote on the project by the end of July.

The city will contribute $287.5 million to a reimagined Gas Plant District – financed through a bond issuance – and the county, which will own the stadium site, will spend $312.5 million in tourism tax dollars.

The city’s debt service estimate is $683.8 million. Welch noted that the city is paying just 21% of the 30-year project’s price tag, the county 23% and the Rays must cover the remaining 56% and any cost overruns.

Glass paneling is a prominent feature of the Tampa Bay Rays’ proposed new ballpark, and many sections will open to foster indoor-outdoor connectivity. Rendering provided.

Councilmember Richie Floyd, a vocal critic of the public subsidy, reiterated that academic research shows similar deals do not provide an economic impact. Administrator Rob Gerdes said keeping the Rays in the Sunshine City provides intangible benefits.

“People may say Major League Baseball had nothing to do with the renaissance in this city – I’m not so sure about that,” Gerdes added. “And whether the stadium itself is a catalyst for economic development, we believe, wholeheartedly, that it’s a catalyst for the whole site.

“I doubt, very seriously, we’re going to get a five-star hotel with a conference center without a baseball team.”

Welch said previous academic research is inapplicable due to the local project’s equitable development and job creation aspects. He noted it would transform a sea of asphalt into a tax-generating resource.

Floyd remained unmoved. He said including the stadium in the overall redevelopment is another way to make it look like a “good investment.”

Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz, another vocal critic, posed pointed concerns about construction parking impacts. She also pushed back against the idea that the city could not build much-needed Class A office space and a new Woodson African American Museum of Florida without the Rays and Hines development team.

The lack of financial disclosures from the Rays was another source of contention. City officials must rely on independent firms to ensure the team meets its financial requirements.

“They (financial institutions) have different standards for their due diligence,” Hanewicz said. “But guess what – the people who elected us rely on us to do our due diligence.”

Councilmember John Muhammad has vocalized many concerns without signaling staunch disapproval. He questioned why the Rays would not split stadium revenues with the city.

Gerdes explained that he and his county counterpart decided to simplify the process and avoid sharing operating costs. “There was no deal I could bring to you for a vote where we made a quote-unquote profit,” he said.

From front left: Rays president Brian Auld, City Administrator Rob Gerdes, City Councilmember Ed Montanari and Rays president Matt Silverman at an event in March. Photo by Mark Parker.

The remaining five council members had germane questions and sought agreement tweaks, like additional status reporting requirements and a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designation mandate. However, they also implied various levels of support.

Councilmember Copley Gerdes noted that the city would save about $2.4 million annually just on insurance. It has never recouped that expenditure through its current revenue-sharing agreement, and officials expect those costs to continue increasing.

In addition, Assistant City Administrator Tom Greene said Tropicana Field’s operational subsidies have topped $46 million since 1998. The Rays will now cover those expenses for a stadium they expect to last for multiple generations.

The meeting began with presentations highlighting recently released stadium renderings. Councilmember Gina Driscoll said she is “really excited” about the ballpark’s design and believes other cities will be “so jealous of us.”

While she appreciated additional promotional aspects to elevate St. Petersburg’s brand, Driscoll revisited her idea to include the city’s name in the ballpark’s moniker. Rays President Matt Silverman said those discussions are ongoing with the team’s naming rights advisor.

“I thought it was highly productive,” Welch said after the meeting. “It’s the council’s role to give us that kind of feedback, so when we present the documents for approval, they’ve seen it, they’ve talked about it and they understand what we can and cannot do.”

 

 

 

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    June 13, 2024at6:09 pm

    It’s time to lead a Recall of Mayor Welch and any council person in-favor of the deal as proposed.

  2. Avatar

    VLHeraty

    June 13, 2024at5:08 pm

    So we’re at the level of “Making other cities so jealous of us?” That’s a great, mature response to such a city-wide conflict that we’ll all be subsidizing for years to come. My vote is to get all adults on the council.

  3. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    June 13, 2024at5:06 pm

    You best “hope and pray” because the Development Agreement gives you nothing more than that. The only thing that is guaranteed is that the stadium will be built and the City will pay for the infrastructure. Everything else is at Ray’s discretion. Three courageous Council members stood tall for the average resident, and five sold out, and will never make the next edition of “Profiles in Courage.”

    St Pete, you deserve so much more. The fight is never over. Not with the majority of voters now opposing the deal!!

  4. Avatar

    Drew

    June 13, 2024at4:23 pm

    This is a wealth transfer scheme and guess who is getting fleeced again?
    The working class and black citizens of Saint Pete & Pinellas county.
    Put it up for a vote.

  5. Avatar

    Lauren Lopez

    June 13, 2024at3:53 pm

    This is a mistake and the people elected to City Council are ignoring the wishes of the majority of their constituents.
    We see you. And we will remember at election time.
    LET THE PEOPLE VOTE.

  6. Avatar

    HAL FREEDMAN

    June 13, 2024at3:46 pm

    Hmmm. I thought the Catalyst was a fair-minded news source. However, They just removed a comment I posted about a Mason Dixon (nationally-respected pollster) poll that showed majority taxpayer opposition to the deal, desire to put the deal on the ballot in November (82%), and desire for a new appraisal of the land to be sold to Rays/Hines (86%). What are you afraid of? Taxpayer preferences?

  7. Avatar

    HAL FREEDMAN

    June 13, 2024at3:40 pm

    More trouble on the horizon? The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) just delivered a 28 page letter to the City Attorney. It discusses how the law may have been broken in the original Trop deal, and how it may be broken in this deal. When will that news be made public?

  8. Avatar

    Steven Brady

    June 13, 2024at3:21 pm

    So no academic studies show benefits to cities by such deals as this.

    Our administrator responds “I’m not sure?”

    Really?

    Enormous taxpayer investment on a hunch?

    And we’re going to get an African-American museum as the benefit of all this giant tax money spend?

    This seems like a jaw dropping bad idea.

    No cities or local governments have ever made money out of these deals. It’s imaginary.

    No one moves to a city or stay in one because of professional sports teams. Do you know anyone or any company that has?

    No.

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