St. Pete council calls Rays’ bluff, rejects lease buyout unless team coughs up development rights

If yesterday’s news had you thinking that city councils were just mindless automatons who would inevitably rubber-stamp any stadium deal set before them, then the St. Petersburg city council had a surprise for you: That body voted 5-3 yesterday afternoon to reject the proposed deal in which the Tampa Bay Rays could buy their way out of their Tropicana Field lease to move to a new stadium elsewhere in the bay area for a payment of at most $42 million.

Given that as recently as a week ago, all signs were that the council was going to approve the plan that Mayor Rick Kriseman had worked out with Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, this was a bit of a shocker. But according to the Tampa Bay Times, Rays execs shot themselves in the foot with their answer to questions about whether the team would agree to forgo a split of profits from development of land on the 85-acre Tropicana Field site if they were in the process of leaving anyway:

Council member Darden Rice, who voted for the agreement, said the Rays blew the deal with their presentation.

“I think at one point we had five votes,” Rice said. “But I was very disappointed by Auld’s response to Karl Nurse’s question about development rights. It was either tone deafness or arrogance.”…

Nurse had asked Kriseman earlier in the week to change the agreement so the city could retain all development rights in that situation. But the Rays declined to make any substantive changes to Kriseman’s deal.

Nurse still voted for the deal in the end, but this did not go over well with several other members of the council:

[Councilmember Bill] Dudley said he felt like the Rays were making ultimatums. “I don’t like arrogance,” he said.

“The deal breaker for me was the idea that they want us to abide by the use agreement for redevelopment purposes, where they can benefit,” [councilmember Amy] Foster said, “but they didn’t want to abide by the use agreement” by staying at the Trop.

“This is a common strategy,” she said. “They use their mobility in order to threaten cities in order to get more.”

Yep, that they do. But in most cases they don’t have an ironclad lease like the one that the Rays are locked into in St. Pete, which currently doesn’t allow the team owners to buy their way out, or even talk about leaving, until 2027. That’s a hefty piece of leverage that the council has at its disposal, and they just used it.

For Sternberg, the logical next step in this situation is to haggle: If the council wants a bigger share of development rights, throw them a bigger share of development rights. Or kick in an extra million or two a year in lease-breaking payments. But it seems like the council isn’t opposed to the principle of the deal, just the specifics, so the usual strategy would be to pick off a couple of councilmembers and find out what their price is.

Sternberg, however, has already declared that he won’t negotiate any more changes to the lease buyout, saying last week, “If it doesn’t pass, we’re doomed to leave.” This kind of paints him into a corner, with his only obvious options being:

  • Try to pretend he never said anything about no further negotiations, and quietly resume talks in a few months. This would not only require swallowing a lot of pride at this point, but also leave him with a weakened negotiating position, since clearly his ultimatums wouldn’t be worth squat.
  • Sit tight and wait — if not 13 years, then at least for a new city council to be elected next fall. And then hope like crazy that the new folks are more willing to give you anything you want.
  • Sell the team and make it someone else’s problem. Forbes, which tends to underestimate team values, has the Rays worth $485 million, which would be a nifty 142% profit on what Sternberg bought them for in 2002. But presumably the Rays would be worth an awful lot more if they had a shiny new stadium to play in (especially if the shiny new stadium debt could be fobbed off on taxpayers), so Sternberg would be leaving a lot of hypothetical money on the hypothetical table if he took this route.
  • Call Bud Selig and ask him to threaten to blow up the team on his way out the door, and hope that the courts will protect them from the inevitable antitrust lawsuit that would result.

So far, the Rays have just responded with a generic “You’re a bunch of poopyheads” statement:

There’s still plenty of time — until 2027, really — for a deal to be worked out, so there’s no reason to start freaking out about the Rays moving to Montréal (unless you’re the Tampa Bay Times editorial board). The St. Peterburg council did send a message, though, that they’re at least aware that, as Jonah Keri puts it:

Public officials trying to negotiate better deals in the public interest. What’ll they think of next?

Hamilton County spending $1.3m to buy Reds new seats, because they broke all the old ones

Hamilton County’s sweetheart deals with its sports teams doesn’t stop at having to build a new scoreboard for the Cincinnati Bengals: The county also has to replace all the seats at the Reds‘ stadium, just 11 years after it opened, because the old ones all broke and they were out of warranty. (Yes, apparently Hamilton County couldn’t even buy seats that were guaranteed to last a decade. Yes, apparently Hamilton County around the turn of the millennium had the worst contract negotiators ever.)

This will all cost county taxpayers $1.3 million, but on the bright side I guess at least it’ll create some decent local jobs for seat installers—

County officials say they saved more than $3 million by hiring a local company to design new seats and hiring former jail inmates – participants in a county work re-entry program – to install them.

Pay for this seat installation work? $10 an hour. Okay, so Hamilton County knows how to play hardball with some people — just not so much sports team owners.

Detroit signs developer to preserve Tiger Stadium field, surround it with buildings

The city of Detroit has picked Larson Realty as its developer for the site of Tiger Stadium (and hey, shoutout from Crain’s reporter Amy Haimerl to FoS correspondent David Dyte!), which means we get more renderings of the plan to preserve the old ballfield and surround it with low-rise buildings. Not necessarily better than the last set of renderings, but more:

(There’s also an image showing the new Police Athletic League building surrounded by what appear to be Cybermen ghosts, but that’s too disturbing to include here.)

Anyway, still many details to go, but it’s looking promising that the old Tiger Stadium field will be preserved, anyway, even if it’s too late for the stadium itself. (Though it’s marginally worrisome that the flagpole isn’t visible on these.) Which is good, because I still need to get out there for a softball game.

 

Rays vote pushed back, time of reckoning for how the hell to actually pay for stadium delayed one week

The St. Petersburg city council has pushed its vote on the Tampa Bay Rays lease modification back to next week, so that members can actually read the thing. Mayor Rick Kriseman readily agreed to the delay, as did Rays execs, so it looks like the Rays won’t be threatening to move to Montréal in the next week or anything. Things could change if the council tries to put up a fight, but it sounds like this is less a resistance move than just a “hang on, we need to find our reading glasses.”

Meanwhile, the indefatigable Noah Pransky has taken a look at what’s going to be the more important question going forward, which is how on earth to actually pay for a new stadium, whether it’s on the St. Pete side of the bay or the Tampa side. Pransky notes that the two cities’ chambers of commerce estimated back in 2012 that a stadium would take $300 million to $400 million in public money, and floated a bunch of different ideas for raising it: extend a sales tax surcharge for infrastructure improvements and redirect it to the stadium, raise the car rental tax, raise the hotel tax (note: possibly illegal under state law), kick back property taxes through a TIF district, kick back the local share of state sales taxes. Taken together these could certainly raise $400 million, but they’re also all money that could be used for other things, and once you spend it on a stadium, it’s gone.

So really it’s going to still come down to whether any government body in the Tampa region feels like handing over $300-400 million to the owner of the local baseball team, regardless of what particular tax revenue stream is allocated to it. Recent indications have not been positive, but the new agreement would give the Rays two years to announce an opt-out date from their Tropicana Field lease, which is … not plenty of time, but some time, anyway. Maybe someone will stumble upon a foolproof way to raise money before then.

Braves stadium development to feature lens flare, violations of space-time continuum

Renderings! The Atlanta Braves have ‘em, showing what the new pretend urban neighborhood around their new Cobb County stadium will look like when complete! Look, here’s one now:

Takeaways:

  • There will be a mix of modern buildings and retroish buildings, because that’s what people want in their fake urban neighborhoods.
  • The surrounding development will include some small parking lots, with nobody much parking in them, despite a game going on at the time.
  • Some cars are clearly visible on the roads while others are just a blur of head- and taillights, presumably because the architects are those aliens who slipped something in Kirk’s coffee to accelerate him to multiple times normal human speed.
  • The near future will include a really awful Jack & Jones ad campaign.
  • Enough lens flare to kill J.J. Abrams.

Really, though, none of this matters, because these are just sketches meant as a sales pitch for businesses to locate in the project (or as the Atlanta Journal Constitution paraphrased Braves VP Derek Schiller’s explanation, “the concept of project’s look, not the final design”). The eventual development could look like this, or it could look like something else, or it could never get built. It’s important to remember that you’re looking at an ad here, even if it’s a slightly more attractive one than that fake Jack & Jones thing.

Rays owner: If no new stadium, I’ll find a guy to take the team and go home with it, in 2027, yeah!

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg celebrated his new agreement with the city of St. Petersburg to allow him to pursue a new stadium across the bay in Hillsborough County yesterday in the way that only sports team owners can: By threatening that if he doesn’t get his way, he’ll find an imaginary person to move the team out of town.

“I’m not moving this team. I’m not taking this team out of the area. But that’s me,” Sternberg said at baseball’s winter meetings in San Diego.

“The chances of me owning this team in 2023 if we don’t have a new stadium are probably nil. Somebody else will take it and move it. It’s not a threat, just the reality.”…

Sternberg said he didn’t know exactly what they would do if the agreement is not approved by the council, but he certainly sounded discouraged by the prospects, adding that it could lead to the team leaving the market.

“If it doesn’t pass, we’re doomed to leave …” he said.

Sternberg has made threats like this before, mind you, but he at least then usually painted MLB officials as the bad guys wanting the team out of Tampa Bay. Blaming a hypothetical future Rays owner who doesn’t even exist yet isn’t quite a second-ever sighting of the ghost threat, but it’s still kind of impressive, given that he single-handedly managed to turn a day when people actually felt good about the Rays stadium situation (largely because nobody had yet thought much about the price tag, but hey, allow people their moments) into a hostage crisis in the course of a few hours.

Before anyone gets too excited about the Rays moving to Montréal on Friday if the council doesn’t approve this deal (whoops, too late!), keep in mind that the Rays are bound by their lease to stay at Tropicana Field through 2027, something Sternberg himself has acknowledged. Plus, if the new agreement isn’t approved by the council tomorrow, Sternberg (or whoever he sells the team to) can’t even talk to anyone outside of St. Pete about a new stadium — and even if it is approved, the Rays owner still can’t talk to anyone outside Tampa Bay before the lease is up.

So it’s a pretty idle non-threat threat, but when it’s the only arrow in your quiver, I guess you’ve got to run with it. Why the sports media is running with it too is a different question, but they have a long history of this stuff, too.

St. Pete mayor agrees to max $42m payment from Rays for leaving town early

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has scheduled a 10 am news conference today to announce his agreement on a lease amendment to allow Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to explore sites in Hillsborough County (which is where Tampa is, not where St. Pete is) for a new stadium. In exchange for letting the Rays out of the “can’t even think about a new stadium” clause of their lease, St. Petersburg would receive:

Payments would be based on how many years remain on the Trop lease if the Rays leave, starting at $4 million a season until December 2018, dropping to $3 million a season from 2019 to 2022 and $2 million from 2023 through 2026.

The Rays would have to make any remaining bond payments on the Trop, about $2 million a year. The city would cover demolition expenses.

(That’s from the Tampa Bay Times. You can read the full MOU here.)

So wait, St. Petersburg wouldn’t get any actual “exploratory fee” out of the deal immediately, just money if the Rays end up leaving before their lease is up? Since the earliest the team could possibly get a new Hillsborough stadium open would have to be the 2018 season, by my count that means a maximum of $24 million that Sternberg would have to pay to leave St. Pete early, plus $18 million in remaining bond payments.

Given that the Rays would have had to pay to break their lease regardless, on top of paying to get out of the no-looking-elsewhere deal, this seems awfully generous of Kriseman; Shadow of the Stadium’s Noah Pransky speculates that the mayor “must have felt his leverage was limited and the benefit of securing a deal now outweighed the risk of continued negotiation,” which sounds a lot like the reasoning being used to defend Billy Beane’s winter of trading everything not nailed down for a bucket of spare parts.

There is some upside to this deal for St. Petersburg: By making the Rays Tampa’s problem and potentially freeing up the land under Tropicana Field for development that’s active more than 81 days a year (giving Rays games the benefit of the doubt for being considered “activity”), it should more than offset any losses to the city from not having Rays fans drive across the bridge and buy hot dogs each summer. The question is more whether Kriseman, given Sternberg’s desperation to flee across the bay, got the best deal he could have swung — though given that Pransky reports that the St. Pete city council is  ready to rubber-stamp this on Thursday, it sounds like everyone concerned feels like they just want to arrange a payout now, and sit back and let Hillsborough County fight about this from now on.

Pransky will be live-tweeting the press conference starting at 10 am Eastern, so follow him there for further updates.

Cubs release new images of how they want you to think their Wrigley Field ad signage will look

Renderings! Getcher revised renderings of the Wrigley Field outfield signage!

Ways in which this will diverge from reality: 1) The big neon words won’t say “Wrigley Field” and the like, they’ll be the names of sponsors (a mortgage banker has already put dibs on the “Financial” sign in left field), and 2) the video boards almost certainly won’t be showing white type on a green background all the time, though that would be a cool design decision if they went with it. Also, it looks like the ribbon ad board along the front of the upper deck is still in place here, and the National Park Service has ordered that it be omitted if all of the outfield signage is built, so … check back on opening day, I guess? Or later?

National Park Service’s Wrigley ruling includes “ribbon ads or outfield ads but not both” deal

Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamen, in the midst of a column praising the National Park Service for getting Cubs owner Tom Ricketts to scale back on his requested video boards and ad signage if he wants to be eligible for historic preservation tax credits, notes that the NPS got an additional concession in addition to what was reported yesterday:

In another good stroke, the Park Service negotiated a reduction in the length of video ribbon boards on the front of the left and right field grandstands. The agency also played a smart, carrot-and-stick game with the Cubs.

If the team builds all the outfield signs and video boards allowed by the Park Service, the agency’s spokeswoman said, it must eliminate the grandstand-fronting video ribbon boards and replace them with static, billboardlike signs. That’s potentially good news: Wrigley, beloved for its serene, parklike atmosphere, still may avoid a resemblance to the inside of the United Center.

That’s actually a pretty huge deal, as video ribbon boards are arguably more intrusive and harder to ignore than static ad signage. It’ll be interesting to see whether Ricketts chooses ribbon boards over the outfield signs — I have no clue what the relative ad fees are for each — but as Kamen writes, at least “the Park Service has done architecture fans in Chicago and elsewhere a service by doing something the city’s landmarks commission failed to do: It looked carefully and critically at the cumulative impact of all the revenue-generating signs the Cubs want — and how those signs would affect the ballpark’s architecture and the fans’ experience.”

Tampa homeless charity CEO on unpaid sports concessions labor: Who you gonna believe, “former addicts” or him?

The Tampa Bay unpaid homeless labor scandal fallout continues to fall out this week, with Hillsborough County officials calling for a federal investigation, the Rays and concessionaire Centerplate launching their own probe, and the Lightning saying hey, don’t blame them, they stopped using these guys in 2013 due to “reliability and consistency concerns.” (Though not “violating labor law” concerns, I guess.)

The charity at the center of the charges, meanwhile, New Beginnings, has responded with its own press release, and it is hi-larious. For starters:

“We don’t use homeless or the clients than are in our Emergency Shelter for sporting events”.

Assuming that “than” is a typo for “that,” this at first sounds like the dozens of homeless New Beginnings clients who the Tampa Bay Times witnessed lining up to work concessions at a Buccaneers game must have been imaginary. The key here, though, is that phrase “in our Emergency Shelter” — New Beginnings does use its clients to run sports concessions, it just does so with those in its “work therapy” program, where homeless people learn how to re-enter the work world by working and not getting paid for it! (Which, come to think of it, probably is a good acclimation to the work world these days.)

New Beginnings also posted a link to a softball radio interview with New Beginnings CEO Tom Atchison on a Christian radio station, in which he denied all the charges, mostly by saying, “Are you kidding me? Stop this nonsense!” Then he said this:

“Can you imagine using somebody that’s homeless off the street to cash out a register and serve hot dogs? They’d be eating the hot dogs, stealing the beer, taking the money out of the register, and running down the street!”

Your homelessness charity director, people!

Atchison went on to blame disgruntled ex-employees and “a few former addicts that are telling him how horrible we are” for the negative press coverage, without actually contesting the central point of the Times article, which is that New Beginnings is pimping out its homeless clients to Tampa Bay sports teams, not paying them anything beyond their food and shelter, and pocketing any proceeds. Instead, he appears to be falling back on the defense that he’s a good Christian, so why are you picking on him, already?

On first blush it will appear that New Beginnings is a horrible agency, but after the dust has settled the truth about the great work we do will prevail. We at New Beginnings feel like we are under attack by the powers of darkness, but God is at our side to walk us through this.

God better have one heck of a labor lawyer.