Tampa’s plan to raze low-income housing for Rays stadium could doom historic school, too

DRaysBay has more on that plan to build a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium on the site of a low-income housing project, and it’s even worse than it sounded at first:

  • The housing complex is co-owned by a nonprofit originally founded by members of the local African-American community to provide services that were unavailable in the segregated South, which for some reason bears the name the Lily White Security Benefit Association. It barely exists nowadays — no website and a meager $361,327 budget — but is still eager to sell the land under the housing complex for $9 million.
  • Relocating the 372 families currently occupying the apartments would cost from $9.3 million to $27.9 million, assuming somewhere can be found to move them to.
  • The site is too small for a stadium, so to make sufficient room the city of Tampa would also probably have to raze the historic Booker T. Washington Elementary School. Plus maybe a public library and a Catholic church.
  • The highway access isn’t great, so somebody would need to pay for new ramps from I-275 and I-4.

And as a punchline, DRaysBay recounts this troubling list, then notes:

For all these reasons, Mayor Buckhorn has indicated his support for this site.

Florida, man.

Tampa mayor thinks evicting poor African-American families to make way for Rays stadium is great idea

So now that Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg can look elsewhere in the Tampa Bay area for a stadium site, where’s he going to look? How about the site of a low-income housing complex? The mayor of Tampa sure thinks so!

Mayor Bob Buckhorn couldn’t deny he had a favorite site.

It’s the Tampa Park Apartments, a nearly 50-year-old apartment complex for 372 low-income families between downtown and Ybor City.

“I don’t hide my optimism for that particular site,” he said after a City Hall news conference Friday.

This led to one of the most amazingly understated series of words ever to appear in any U.S. newspaper:

The complex also presents a challenge: It’s full of poor, mostly black families, some who have lived there for generations.

So wouldn’t evicting them for a new stadium just repeat what happened in St. Petersburg’s Gas Plant neighborhood before Tropicana Field was built?

“That would be the biggest issue,” Buckhorn conceded.

The Tampa Tribune also provides its own coverage of the proposal, none of which includes the sentence, “Holy crap, the mayor of Tampa really wants to evict a thousand poor people so he can build a new stadium for the local baseball team owner, is he campaigning for the role of supervillain in the next Marvel Cinematic Universe movie or what?” Which is technically a run-on sentence, so that’s probably why it got edited out.

Rays get their St. Pete lease buyout, now just have to figure how to build new stadium elsewhere

Two months and change after picking up a key swing vote in the November elections, the St. Petersburg city council finally voted 5-3 to approve conditions under which the Tampa Bay Rays can seek out new stadiums sites within the Tampa Bay region, but outside of St. Pete itself.

In short, the deal means that Rays owner Stuart Sternberg can start negotiating for other stadium sites immediately (under the Rays’ original lease, this was a thought crime), in exchange for which he’d have to pay a modest fee (starting at $42 million and lessening in later years) if the team moves before its lease is up in 2027. This isn’t a huge payoff considering St. Pete really had him over a barrel, but this gets him to stop whining about his lease and potentially gives St. Pete the chance to redevelop the Tropicana Field site if the Rays leave — the standoff over who’d get the proceeds from development was apparently resolved by letting the Rays split any revenues, but only if they build a new stadium on the Trop site and develop around it — and 2027 isn’t all that far away anyway, and you know, whatever.

The big question now isn’t what buyout fee St. Pete arranged, but what kind of subsidies Sternberg will look for now as he (presumably) plays off the two sides of the bay against each other. If I’m an elected official in Hillsborough or Pinellas, I’d be saying, “We’ll welcome you if you choose to come here, but if it means giving you tax dollars we’ll put up with driving across a bridge to watch Logan Forsythe or whoever is still left on your roster by then.” Yeah, we’ve established that most elected officials don’t think that way, but there’s always hope, right?

[ADDENDUM: Forgot to mention this, but it’s kind of important: SBNation’s Rays blogger Daniel Russell wrote this morning of the lease revision, “This was a necessary vote for the Rays to make any progress toward remaining in Tampa Bay.” Um, no. Under the old lease, Sternberg couldn’t move the Rays anywhere until 2027, at which point he was free to go anywhere. Under the new lease, he move within Tampa Bay starting now, then in 2027 can still move anywhere. This does absolutely squat to keep the team in Tampa Bay, unless you think that a stadium elsewhere in the bay area is easier to negotiate now than in 2027, or that Sternberg is so desperate to get out of the Trop now-now-now that he’ll agree to a bad (for him) stadium deal in Tampa in 2016 even if it means giving up the leverage of being able to move to some other city offering a way better deal (I can’t actually think of what city this would be) in 2027. This is a “fine, pay us some money and go across the bay and don’t bother us anymore” vote, no more, no less, and pretending otherwise is painting it as some kind of boon for Rays fans that it really, really isn’t.]

Rays owner complains other rich owners are richer than him, sows confusion on TV deal

Tampa Bay Times sportswriter Marc Topkin handed over his column yesterday to Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, for a long interview about how his team doesn’t have as much money as other teams and it’s just so unfair. (Sample quote: “It’s tough when the other guy is driving a tank and I’m sitting there on a three-speed bicycle.”) And while it may seem an odd time to whine about market disparities when the Kansas City Royals just won the World Series and the Arizona Diamondbacks just signed the best free-agent pitcher to a record contract, Sternberg has an answer to that, too: Those teams have been able to convert winning into increased TV revenues, which the Rays don’t have access to.

But wait! Isn’t 2016 the year when the Rays get to sign a new TV contract, possibly quintupling their annual media revenues?

Nuh-uh, says Sternberg, as relayed by Topkin:

A presumably rich new TV deal “a few years from now” — not after 2016 as has been reported — should also provide a welcome revenue boost.

Which left a whole lot of Rays watchers going “Um, what?”

Topkin, however, was insistent:

Okay, a couple of things here. First off, jeez, Topkin, if you’re going to drop a bombshell like that into a column, you really owe it to your readers to explain what you’re talking about. Also, to ask Sternberg to go back and explain himself — what does “a couple of years” mean exactly? — even if it means interrupting his self-selected narrative for a minute.

As for what happened here, we can only speculate, but it looks like the 2016 figure goes back to a 2010 report from Sports Business Daily, which said (as cited in the Tampa Bay Times) that “after the Rays renewed their contract with Fox Sports Florida in 2008, they are now locked in until 2016.” So maybe there were some option years at the end of the deal? Or maybe SBD got it wrong? (Though stuff like TV deals is usually their bread-and-butter.) Or Sternberg decided at some point to extend the Fox deal for his own unscrutable reasons, and didn’t tell anyone until now? Who knows!

The bigger question, to my mind, is why Sternberg is crying poor in a public forum at this particular moment. It could be:

  1. To distract fans from the fact that his team hasn’t acquired any good new players in eons, and this winter doesn’t look to be any different.
  2. An early shot across the bow of MLB in advance of next winter’s collective bargaining agreement renegotiation, in hopes of getting increased revenue sharing money for teams in small markets with crappy TV deals and whiny owners.
  3. Attempted leverage with St. Petersburg officials to show that he neeeeeeds a new stadium (you knew I’d get around to stadiums eventually, right?), and so they should hurry up and approve that lease buyout deal already.

Or all of the above! In any case, all this talk about bicycles and tanks (which, as Craig Calcaterra notes, ignores the facts that 1) Sternberg knew what team he was getting when he bought it, 2) the Rays are still making money regardless, and 3) the franchise has more than quadrupled in value in the 11 years Sternberg has owned it) isn’t going to help the Rays sell any tickets. But then, selling tickets is what the Royals do. Those bastards.

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.