The Tampa Bay Times has a long record of really terrible, boosterish reporting (plus conflicts of interest) on the push for a new Rays stadium, and this article doesn’t exactly help raise the bar. It’s ostensibly about how two St. Petersburg city officials have different thoughts on whether the city should tell Rays owner Stuart Sternberg how much they’re willing to put up toward a new stadium, or wait for Sternberg to figure out how much he wants to ask for:
City Council member Charlie Gerdes wants clarity, and believes it would be prudent for city, county and state officials to come up with the amount of public money that could be available to help fund a new St. Petersburg ballpark.
Gerdes hopes that will make it easier for the Rays to stay — or at least decide their future sooner.
“We need to go to them,” Gerdes said. “I think we all need to be able to look each other in the face and say ‘we did everything we could’’’ in the event the team decides to leave.
Others believe the Rays must make the first move.
“If they aren’t interested in ever pursuing a new stadium, there there’s no need to start convening all the other folks together and saying ‘what do we think we can realistically come up with,’” Mayor Rick Kriseman said.
Now, I know that the Times is just reporting what Gerdes and Kriseman are saying, but reporter Josh Solomon really should be pointing out that neither of these arguments entirely makes sense. Especially Gerdes’s: Offering Sternberg a set stack of dollar bills isn’t going to “make it easier for the Rays to stay,” unless maybe you think you’re going to so massively overbid that it’s an offer he can’t refuse — which presumably isn’t what Gerdes is trying to say? Or not say out loud, at least?
Kriseman’s response, meanwhile, is just a little garbled — clearly Sternberg wants a new stadium — though he is right to point out that it is a little weird to start offering the Rays owner public cash for a plan that he hasn’t even expressed an interest in.
Really, the mistake here is in St. Petersburg officials considering the Rays stadium situation to be the public’s problem at all: The city gave Sternberg an opt-out to go build a stadium elsewhere in the region if he wanted, and he couldn’t find anyone to give him the amount of money that he wanted, so he didn’t do it. Which is all fine, but it doesn’t make it St. Petersburg’s crisis.
The subtext of all this — which, to be fair, Solomon does spell out — is that St. Petersburg would like to redevelop the Tropicana Field site, which it can’t do until the Rays move out, so it can’t start planning until it knows what Sternberg will do. Except, you know, that the Rays’ lease expires in 2027, and they’re almost certainly not getting a stadium built much before that, so if Kriseman really wants to start planning a new development there he can just send Sternberg a “you’re evicted in eight years” notice, and everybody can plan just fine. Except Sternberg, but that’s not St. Petersburg’s problem — unless you think keeping the Rays is more important than redeveloping the stadium site, which seems to be not the point of this article?
Maybe it’s just the editor in me, but reading this suggests an entirely different, better article that would have begun by analyzing the situation the city of St. Pete is in: salivating over the stadium land, but also not wanting to be accused of driving the Rays out of the region. (It kind of heads in that direction, but then veers off and never quite makes it back.) Which is indeed a dilemma! And then you could ask Gerdes and Kriseman and other local officials what they think the city’s priority should be, and how much it would be worth to St. Pete to clear the stadium off of that land, and whether it’s better to build sooner or wait until the Rays have left and are no longer entitled to a cut of redevelopment rights, and suddenly you have a story where readers actually learn something more than just “city officials yell past each other.” I know it’s 2019 and that’s not how most journalism works anymore, but I really don’t think I’m asking that much, am I?