St. Pete mayor to hire stadium consultant after telling Rays owner to “pick a partner and get married”

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is term-limited out of office this year — man, it seems like only yesterday that Kriseman was supposed to be the new more Tampa Bay Rays–friendly mayor — and he used his final state of the city speech last Friday to, in effect, tell Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to move to Montreal or get off the pot already:

“The Rays,” he said, “have spent more than half their existence trying to figure out where they’d like to play baseball for the long term. They’ve worked with three mayors in St. Pete, two in Tampa and officials in Montreal, yet we are no closer to an answer regarding their future than we were 13 years ago. We love our Rays, but it’s time for them to pick a partner and get married.”

Sternberg, of course, is less being indecisive than waiting for someone to throw money at him for a new stadium, something that is not going all that well either in Montreal, St. Petersburg, or Tampa. (As a reminder, Sternberg’s current plan involves getting both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal to build him new stadiums and then splitting the season between the two, which, uh, good luck with that.) But Kriseman does have a couple of reasons to be impatient: He’s about to leave office, for one thing, but also he’s eager to get moving on redeveloping the current Tropicana Field site, which can’t happen until the Rays move out (unless, you know, it can). And if he’s smart, he would definitely rather negotiate from a position of strength, which would certainly behoove him to move quickly since right now Sternberg’s two best alternatives to cutting a deal with St. Pete appear to be a rock and a hard place.

Kriseman is also looking to hire an independent stadium consultant, one who can “provide substantial evidence of successfully negotiating with a Major League Baseball, or other professional sports [franchise], on behalf of a municipal government.” I’m not sure how he defines “successfully” — is that saved a city big bucks or got a deal signed, any deal? — but it’s certainly a good idea. Let’s recall the sage words of Jim Nagourney, who worked on sports venue deals on behalf of both local governments and teams, and who had this to say about mayors trying to negotiate on their own:

“I went to a meeting in Los Angeles one morning,” recalled Nagourney. “We had a whiteboard, and we’re putting stuff down [to demand from cities]. And some of the stuff, I said, ‘Guys, some of this is crazy.’ And John Shaw, who was president of the Rams at the time — brilliant, brilliant guy — said, ‘They can always say no, let’s ask for it.’”

On the other side of the table, Nagourney explained, the city of St. Louis had to make do with staff attorneys, who weren’t versed in the details of sports finance. “A city attorney is not going to know where the money really is. They’re not going to understand advertising, they’re not going to understand concessions—just a whole range of issues that the team officials intimately understand.”

Plus, Nagourney said, city officials get “stars in their eyes. It’s their first time dealing with celebrities. They’re just so enamored with the fact that ‘I’m dealing with people who get their name on Page Six.’”

If you’re qualified to negotiate on behalf of St. Pete, and/or are Jim Nagourney, you can apply by … you know, I can’t actually find the request for proposals, so just try emailing mayor@stpete.org. But don’t delay, proposals are due March 3, because one week is totally enough time to find the right person to make responsible for negotiating a stadium deal that could involve hundreds of millions of dollars — or at least maybe it is when you’re on a term-limits clock.

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6 comments on “St. Pete mayor to hire stadium consultant after telling Rays owner to “pick a partner and get married”

  1. The glass half full view would be that Kriseman wants someone in place and under (long term) contract before he is out of office so that this process can carry on much as it has… with St. Petersburg using the leverage it has to limit the damage the team owner can do to it.

    The glass half empty view would be that the contract whomever is hired holds will just form an additional small cost that must be paid when the next mayor and council agree to fork over the entire city treasury for years to come to the team owner.

    It hasn’t all been Kriseman holding the line on MLB subsidies has it? A mayor is just one vote on council, though they often have significant sway on other councillors etc.

    Given the long term lack of support the team has had (at least as far as in person attendance), and the results south Florida saw when the Marlins were allowed to attempt to remedy long term attendance problems by applying several hundred million taxpayer dollars to their stadium project (IE: none. Same small crowds in a massively more expensive facility), doing nothing appears to be St. Pete’s best option. The land under the stadium is highly valuable (or so we are told), and in just six more years the city doesn’t have to share any of the redevelopment money with the team owner.

    There is literally no reason for the city to move on this unless Mr. Sternberg is willing to put a significant amount of his own money into a new facility AND surrender all development rights/entitlements to the Trop site.

    Will he pick up his team and just go? Maybe. But it’s not clear to me where he would get a better deal, who would pay for his stadium, or whether he would earn more money in the new destination than where his team is now.

  2. They’re just so enamored with the fact that ‘I’m dealing with people who get their name on Page Six.’ Which “celebrities” are negotiating stadium deals?

    1. That was either in reference to Mark Davis or Sheldon Adelson, I think. Weirdly, in this country rich people seem to be regarded as celebrities.

  3. Found the (largely uninformative) consultant RFP here: https://athena.stpete.org/OA_HTML/OA.jsp?OAFunc=PON_ABSTRACT_PAGE&PON_NEGOTIATION_STATUS=ACTIVE

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