New St. Pete councilmember could be deciding vote for Rays lease buyout

You can tell how blasé I’ve become about this whole electoral-process-making-any-difference thing when I didn’t even bother to check until late yesterday who’d won what in stadium-related races. (I knew about Ohio rejecting pot monopolies and Kentucky electing a crazy guy governor, because Facebook, duh.) So, a quick recap:

  • Glendale, Arizona voters recalled city councilmember Gary Sherwood, who’d been one of the prime supporters of the Arizona Coyotes and their sweetheart lease deal. Not that it matters all that much — Glendale’s council was already solidly against the Coyotes lease, and Sherwood has already said he’s planning to run for his old seat again next August — but Coyotes owner Anthony LeBlanc should probably give up on waiting for Glendale to come to what he thinks its senses should be.
  • The one open seat on the St. Peterburg city council has gone to Lisa Wheeler-Brown, who could give Mayor Rick Kriseman a pivotal fifth vote (out of eight) in support of his plan to let the Tampa Bay Rays buy their way out of their lease clause preventing them from moving elsewhere in the metropolitan area. That means that come January, Kriseman could presumably reintroduce his plan, which the old council rejected but Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is okay with, and have it approved, which could lead to the Rays stadium chase moving into the “see which local governments we can shake loose how much money from” phase.

And that may be it, so far as I can tell. It was a slow election day — I hear there’s something bigger at stake next year, so I’ll to try to pay more attention by then.


Rays reject St. Pete lease buyout plan, open to negotiating cheaper one

Oh right, so Tampa Bay Rays management rejected St. Petersburg’s stadium lease buyout offer on Thursday:

“Although we appreciate the time and attention that Mayor Kriseman and the City Council have dedicated to this issue, we do not agree to this proposal,” Rays President Brian Auld said in a statement released by the team. “We remain open to pursuing a cooperative path forward.”

Next up: more haggling! It’s not like there’s an exciting stadium offer out there that the Rays are dying to take advantage of, anyway, so they have some time to bat numbers back and forth. We’re talking at most $4 million a year as a buyout price — less than David DeJesus‘s salary, as Noah Pransky noted — so you have to figure at some point the two sides will meet in the middle. Why St. Pete is so eager to let the Rays out of a lease that still has 12 years to run, I’m still not sure, but this is one of the many reasons I’m not a big-city mayor.

That time the mayor of St. Petersburg tried to dis me on Twitter

So yesterday I wrote an item here about St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s plan to build a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays on the site of Tropicana Field, which comes down to “build a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays on the site of Tropicana Field, and pay for it somehow, and also let the Rays buy their way out of their lease so they can move elsewhere in the bay area.” I concluded:

I suppose if you’re mayor of St. Pete, you need to have a plan for a stadium in St. Pete, even if you’re in the middle of talks about how to let the Rays out of St. Pete, and St. Pete would arguably do better letting a new Rays stadium be somebody else’s problem and just redeveloping the Trop land without a stadium, and … you know what, I don’t know why Kriseman is bothering, but I guess we’ve now mentioned his name four times in this one item, so maybe he’s just trying to boost his PageRank.

And then this happened:

Sadly, at that point Mayor Kriseman stopped responding, so we may never know how he reconciles these two actions. (If I had to guess, it’d be something like “Letting them look at other cities is a gesture of good faith that will make them more likely to consider our offer,” which would completely misunderstand how sports negotiations work — but really I shouldn’t go putting nonsensical ideas in the mayor’s mouth when he has enough of his own.)

Anyway, the future is weird. I can hardly wait till 2027, when the then-mayor of St. Petersburg and I can argue this some more via our telepathic brain chips.

St. Pete mayor’s plan for new stadium on Trop site makes no damn sense, but that’s not stopping him

With St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman meeting with Tampa Bay Rays execs today to present the city council’s latest no-relocation-out-of-city-limits lease clause buyout proposal, Noah Pransky of WTSP-TV and the Shadow of the Stadium blog has analysis up of a lesser-discussed issue: Kriseman’s proposal to build a new stadium on the Tropicana Field site:

Kriseman has been steadfast in his city’s ability to put together the best package for a new stadium right on the current Tropicana Field site.

But even if St. Pete redevelops the Trop into a 15-acre stadium with 70 acres of residential, retail, and commercial space, it’s not quite sure where the funding would come from.  Did Kriseman support new city taxes going toward a new stadium when taxpayers have already paid for another decade’s worth of baseball in St. Pete?

The mayor said it wouldn’t have to be “new” taxes since bed taxes and private money from redeveloping the Trop could be enough.   But that’s quite a tall task…and some serious speculation.

Pransky goes on to calculate that even if St. Pete got access to all of the county’s tourist tax money for a new stadium, and the Rays kicked in $150-200 million, that would still leave around $100 million in funding still to be found in city coffers. And, of course, there’s also the issue that most people feel that the problem with the Trop (among those who think the problem is the Trop) is that it’s on the wrong side of the bay, which is the whole reason the Rays are seeking this lease buyout offer. But I suppose if you’re mayor of St. Pete, you need to have a plan for a stadium in St. Pete, even if you’re in the middle of talks about how to let the Rays out of St. Pete, and St. Pete would arguably do better letting a new Rays stadium be somebody else’s problem and just redeveloping the Trop land without a stadium, and … you know what, I don’t know why Kriseman is bothering, but I guess we’ve now mentioned his name four times in this one item, so maybe he’s just trying to boost his PageRank.

St. Pete council agrees on buyout of Rays’ no-new-stadiums lease clause, just haggling over the price

The St. Petersburg city council has again put a price on allowing Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg out of his no-talking-stadiums-with-other-cities lease provision, and the number is: It depends on when they leave, and where they go.

  • If the Rays leave for a new stadium in Hillsborough County, Sternberg would have to pay St. Pete a $5 million “redevelopment fee,” plus $4 million a year from the time of the move until the lease expires in 2027.
  • If they leave for elsewhere in Pinellas County, the annual fee would be reduced to $2.5 million per year.
  • Moving elsewhere in St. Pete itself would be free.

This would be a bit more than the proposal that Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Rays submitted to the council last year, which the council summarily rejected. Kriseman called this “going backward,” which I suppose it is if the goal is to get Sternberg out of his lease for the cheapest price, which, wait, what was Kriseman elected to do again?

Anyway, this relatively small buyout price gap doesn’t seem like it should be a major sticking point, but you know how rich guys are about their millions. The Tampa Bay Times has already decried the council’s decision for “jeopardizing the future of Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay,” which Noah Pransky’s Shadow of the Stadium notes amounts to the Times “essentially shaking down a local government over a $15 million difference in opinions when it’s the Rays who have asked for the financial concessions in the first place.” Wait, what was the Tampa Bay Times editorial board elected to do again?

St. Pete council chair calls meeting to talk about talking to Rays about stadium talks

Six months and change after the St. Peterburg city council said it wasn’t interested in letting Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg negotiate with other local cities for a new stadium without him paying a pretty penny to buy out his lease clause prohibiting that, a buyout is apparently back on the table again. Or at least talking about whether to talk about a buyout:

The chairman of the St. Petersburg City Council has called a special meeting to discuss letting the Tampa Bay Rays look at sites for a new baseball stadium in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties…

The special meeting will start with terms [council chairman Charlie] Gerdes has crafted. Under his proposal, the Rays could look at stadium sites in both counties for free.

“I’ve chosen to allow the looking period for free because they’re looking in St. Petersburg, and I don’t want to charge them for that,” Gerdes explained.

That … huh? They can look in St. Petersburg for free now, without violating their lease. Gerdes’s plan would include at most a $20 million payout from the Rays to buy out the no-footsie-with-other-cities lease clause, which would be less than under the plan Mayor Rick Kriseman proposed and the council rejected in March; it’s not clear who would get development rights from the Tropicana Field site under Gerdes’s plan, which could be a $32.5 million sticking point.

Anyway, there’s a hearing set for next Thursday at 2 pm, at which point we’ll find out whether this is something the council might actually consider, or just Gerdes scoring some “I care about the Rays!” points with local sports columnists.

Pinellas County hedges on Braves spring training plan, blames St. Pete for Rays “stalemate”

Pinellas County commissioners took no action on the controversial Atlanta Braves spring training proposal that would eat up between $6.5 million and $10.5 million in annual subsidies, plus a prime development site, and they know who they want to blame for this: The St. Petersburg city council for not letting them know if they should save the land and money for a potential Tampa Bay Rays stadium.

“We are being held hostage not being able to make a decision, and we have a responsibility to our taxpayers to do that,” Commissioner Janet Long said. “We can’t just be held hostage forever because some partner can’t make a decision, and there’s a difference between being a partner and practicing extortion.”

Chairman John Morroni said the St. Petersburg council elections in November could sway the longtime stalemate on negotiations with the Rays, which could immediately impact the county’s decision on Toytown.

That word “stalemate” showed up in just about every news story on the Pinellas talks today, and it’s dead wrong: The St. Petersburg council isn’t stuck making a decision, people. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has a lease that runs through 2027, and he asked to buy his way out of it, and the St. Pete council said, “No, thanks.” A stalemate implies an impasse toward a needed decision, but a decision’s been made here — Sternberg isn’t happy with it, but it’s done unless he chooses to make another offer.

Anyway, the Tampa Bay sports media are all awful (okay, not you, Noah). But then, that’s nothing new.

Braves propose Tampa Bay spring training complex, MLB says “Hey, leave some subsidies for the Rays”

My apologies for not keeping you all updated before now on the Atlanta Braves spring training controversy in Tampa Bay, which has now managed to draw the Rays stadium mess into its orbit:

Tempest in a teacup, most likely, but a pretty darn entertaining one, if only for MLB having to come up with a way to say, “Thanks for throwing money at our spring training facilities, but please throw money at our big-league teams first.”

Stadiums can be anchors for related development, say newspapers in search of cheap headlines

You know what I missed while I was away? Having the time to read long, misinformed articles about new stadium projects and how they’re just totally different from those old bad stadium projects of a couple of decades ago. Got anything like that for me, Google News?

With the era of standalone, isolated stadiums largely over, sports team owners increasingly are taking on the role of developer and using their stadiums as anchors for entertainment districts or retail and residential developments.

Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff.

The article in question is from the Tampa Tribune’s Christopher O’Donnell, and argues that this newfangled stadium-plus-other-development model being used by teams like the Atlanta Braves and Detroit Red Wings (or “Redwings,” as he calls them) could be used by the Tampa Bay Rays for a new stadium as well. It ignores the fact that these stadium-plus projects aren’t especially new, going back well over a decade (the St. Louis Cardinals‘ “ballpark village” was one of the earlier ones, but I’m sure I’m forgetting others), and mostly ignores, aside from a comment by stadium architecture consultant Philip Bess (who O’Donnell calls “Phillip” — fired all the copy editors, did you, Tampa Tribune?), the problem that if development around a stadium were profitable enough to pay off a stadium, teams would be able to pursue this strategy without public subsidies. Not to mention that if stadium-related development is profitable it could be pursued without the money suck of a new stadium attached, that it could just end up displacing development that otherwise would have taken place somewhere else in town, that development around stadiums has typically appeared years late when it shows up at all, etc., etc.

Anyway, good to see that these articles still pop up every once in a while for me to throw rocks at, and — whoa there!

The new Minnesota Vikings football stadium, to be completed a year from now, is helping draw nearby office towers, upscale housing and other developments, according to its supporters.

Guys! One article at a time, please! I’m still getting back up to speed here.

Pulitzer-winning newspaper asks if Rays fans are staying home out of anger that owner can’t break lease

The Tampa Bay Rays are terrible, and the New York Yankees shortstop is Didi Gregorius, so you might expect that attendance for a Rays-Yankees matchup in April might be lower than usual. Or, if you work for the Tampa Bay Times, you can use it as an excuse to write an article titled “Smaller crowds against Yankees at Trop: Are fans tiring of stadium stalemate?” that features lines like these:

But, still, the crowds for the Yankees games were small. Does the stalemate between the city and the team have anything to do with it?

“It certainly may, but I don’t think there is any way to find out,” said council member Bill Dudley.

Now, there are two ways we could approach this. We could look at attendance in past years that the Rays were lousy when there was no stadium controversy, and see that they’re actually drawing better than in the bad old Devil Rays days (though this year’s average is admittedly goosed a bit by having one of their seven home games be opening day). Or we could just try to picture a Tampa Bay baseball fan thinking, “Hey, the Yankees are in town. Could be a good night for a ballgame — but damn, I sure am tired of the city council not letting the Rays owner break his lease and try to get a new stadium built somewhere else. Why, it’s a veritable stalemate! Stalemates are like ties, and ties are for soccer. Hey, I wonder if there’s any soccer on TV? Do I even like soccer? Where did I leave the remote?”

The Tampa Bay Times, interestingly, filed this not under “sports” but “human interest,” presumably because they don’t have a category tag for “clickbait.” Give them another few months, they’ll get with the program.