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Ed and Gina - we need your leadership

*Author: Tom Mullins, St. Petersburg resident

*Copy of letter to St. Petersburg City Council Members Ed Montanari and Gina Driscoll

Dear Council Members Montanari and Driscoll:

With the first of two scheduled meetings for detailed city council review of the proposed Rays/Hines deal now completed, it seems probable that the two of you are the likely swing votes who will ultimately decide whether the Rays/Hines deal is approved or rejected.

This proposed transaction is the biggest economic matter ever to come before the city council. If you ran for office hoping for a chance to make an impact and have influence over the biggest issues, this is your moment. You are the last line of defense against an epic mistake.

There is so much detail floating around at present about the Rays/Hines plan that it is easy to get caught in the weeds and lose sight of the fundamental flaws in the transaction, any one of which should be enough to disqualify it:

THIS IS THE WRONG LOCATION FOR BASEBALL. We have run this experiment for 20+ years now and the results are beyond debate. This site produces anemic baseball attendance, and over time it will only get more difficult for fans to access downtown St Pete from other parts of the market.

Baseball is a low job-creation land use that also requires thousands of new parking spaces. No thoughtful urban planner would ever suggest taking 22 acres in the heart of one of the hottest urban real estate markets in the U.S. and using that land for a new baseball stadium.

We are all Rays fans and want to see the Rays stay in the Tampa Bay market. Political leaders owe it to the public to steer the stadium decision towards a more conventional site that optimizes fan access for the whole market. Just to clarify, we have no ideological hang-ups about municipalities owning stadiums and using public money to help construct them, provided there is a reasonable revenue stream from the team and stadium patrons that allows the municipality to recover much of its initial costs over time.

THIS IS THE WRONG DEVELOPMENT PLAN FOR THIS REMARKABLE SITE. The strong appreciation in downtown land values has left the city with a windfall of value worth hundreds of millions of dollars. To gamble that entire windfall on a single baseball-centric development concept flunks every rule of common sense and financial stewardship.

The need to use a “master developer” at all has never been explained by either of the last two mayors. The highest functioning neighborhoods downtown have all come about through block-by-block organic development - precisely the opposite strategy of the Rays/Hines plan. The site does not need baseball to “activate” it. The blocks adjacent to the site are already some of the most popular, walkable neighborhoods in all of Florida. Stadium externalities (traffic congestion, fan noise and misbehavior, frequent rock/rap evening concerts, etc.) are more likely to turn off prospective residents and office tenants than attract them.

Finally, approval of the deal puts a big section of downtown under shared control with the Rays/Hines entity, with St. Pete’s municipal government losing its normal degree of planning and development flexibility for the next 40 years.

THE DEAL'S ECONOMICS ARE PREDATORY. Most opposition to the deal to date has centered around its economic points, so we won’t re-hash those line by line. But no matter how you slice it, the lavish subsidies and giveaways in the deal add up to at least $1.6 billion over the life of the project, equal to $6,000 for every man, woman and child in St Pete. Every one of those $1.6 billion dollars represents value that would otherwise go towards schools and essential municipal services in St. Pete, but is now redirected to baseball-related individuals who already possess spectacular wealth. $6,000 for every man, woman and child in St Pete. This is an embarrassment.

Mr. Montanari and Ms. Driscoll, thank you in advance for your service to the community and for your consideration of these points. Even lengthy, busy political careers are often judged by whether an officeholder got just one or two big decisions right or wrong. This is your chance to make the right call on one of those big, defining decisions.

To our readers:

We believe Council Members Gina Driscoll and Ed Montanari are key votes when the Council Members must vote on the current Rays/Hines proposal.

If you are as concerned as we are about the Rays/Hines deal in its present form, you can help. You can easily send them an email HERE.

We need Gina and Ed's leadership to ensure we get a fair deal. Your letter will be important.



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