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No. The Rays Hines plan is not a good deal for St. Pete. Here's why.


Will Conroy, founder of Backstreets Capital, writes in a Perspective op-ed for the Tampa Bay Times about a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the redevelopment of the Gas Plant site, current home to Tropicana Field. We agree this is a unique opportunity, and we also agree that the Rays Hines proposal is thoughtful, and Hines is an excellent developer. However, we don't agree with Mr. Conroy's conclusion that the Rays Hines plan is good for St. Pete.


Because here is the rub – and the facts – the Rays Hines proposal is not worth $1.6 billion of St. Petersburg taxpayers' money (plus another $800 million from Pinellas County coffers) – money the city desperately needs for $760 million of storm-water improvements to prevent our neighborhoods from flooding, more affordable housing, scholarships to send kids to local colleges so they can get good jobs, day care and pre-school funds so single mothers can hold down work or go to school, and for our ongoing commitment to the Black community. The property can be developed - as property has and is being developed throughout that area - without this huge wealth transfer to billionaires.  


If you read our Rays Hines Stadium Deal Analysis on nohomerun.com, you will have the facts - and a serious and sober analysis of the real and immediate needs in St. Petersburg with its limited and shared resources and what a fair deal looks like for our community. Our review provides compelling evidence that we cannot afford, nor should we accept such an unfair and lopsided deal for the citizens. $1.6 billion of taxpayer resources lost to this deal will most certainly have to be replaced with increased real estate taxes, resulting in higher cost of living for owners and renters, making St. Pete a less desirable place to live.


**** A fair deal to us means asking for fair rent for the stadium, fair taxes, and a fair price for the land – and not traded away for the terms in the Rays Hines proposal as it stands today.   

 

Affordable Housing: The op-ed states the Rays Hines proposal includes 1200 workforce and affordable housing units, and they “will be built faster” than the city could accomplish on its own. However, the proposal gives Rays Hines a 'get out' clause allowing them not to build any of the badly needed affordable housing at all if they later elect not to and then the city will be left holding the bag (again).

 

Intentional Equity: The $50 million commitment to intentional equity by Rays Hines is also highlighted in the op-ed. In point of fact, it's the city that is actually funding that $50 million in intentional equity because it is selling Hines-Rays the land for more than $500 million under proper market value. If there was a fair deal for St. Pete taxpayers, the city would have $1.6 billion more funds at its disposal, and could choose to fund that $50 million intentional equity commitment 32 times. 


Public Private Partnership: The op-ed refers to a “true public-private partnership.” Really? True, the Rays are funding part of the cost of the new stadium. However, the Rays are a private business, owned by billionaires, paying their staff and players millions. They can and should be paying. And St. Petersburg will then contribute, with interest, $704 million to build a new stadium and asked to give up $411 million in real estate taxes as the Rays pay ($0) none. In most partnerships that I am aware of, that would mean St. Petersburg should share in the revenue for the stadium. But no – there is no revenue share in the proposed deal. The Rays are going to keep all the revenue from the stadium – from the name on the stadium that alone will generate tens of millions of dollars, to ticket sales, to TV rights and all the way down to hot dog sales. Is this a partnership? 


“The stakes are enormous.” That's for sure. The inequity of a $1.6 billion transfer of wealth from everyday citizens and taxpayers of St. Petersburg to the billionaires who own Rays/Hines can only be described as "enormous." 


While the op-ed contends that the proposal meets all of Mayor Welch’s objectives, we disagree. The city is giving up $1.6 billion to get back $50 million - and no guarantee of any affordable housing. And where in the proposal is there a meaningful commitment to address early childhood programs, and childcare opportunities? 


Master Development Planning: The op-ed suggests that if the city does not do this deal as proposed, the city won’t be able to recruit a replacement for Hines. But while Rays Hines could be tremendous partners, the city can easily hire a master development firm like Gensler, just like Rays Hines plan to do, and without the $1.6 billion giveaway. The fear that St. Pete can’t recruit a capable replacement and the property will go undeveloped is not a real one - there are plenty of other world-class developers that would line up to develop the Gas Plant land. 


Everything spelled out in the op-ed can and should be accomplished with others – because doing so would be a savings to St. Petersburg of $1.6 billion dollars. The city needs this money for so many other priorities. We are fighting for our schools, public safety and infrastructure. Baseball is nice to have but it is not a priority, when we need affordable housing, storm-water improvements and so much more.  


As we have spelled out in our Analysis on No Home Run:

 

The city can hire a world-class master planner (who is not conflicted by its own development interests) to create a master site design plan for the property, including green space. The city develops the needed infrastructure.  The developable part of the 86 acres is then sold parcel by parcel in an orderly, patient fashion for appropriate market value, with the city adopting relatively high-density zoning for the developable parcels, consistent with zoning density seen in other healthy high-growth U.S. cities today.  The developers, businesses and entrepreneurs that become the new owners, then go on to develop the parcels using their own money according to their visions. (This is precisely the blueprint how St. Pete ended up with such diverse and authentic neighborhoods as Grand Central, Edge, Beach Drive, and others.). And the beauty with this approach is that the city controls what is developed and with whom. (In the Rays/Hines proposal, Rays/Hines don't actually have to build anything - they can sell off the land to others.)


With this city-controlled plan, the city RETAINS $1.6 billion taxpayer monies to meet the Mayor’s objectives, including the commitment to the Black community, and can then fund a $250 million Citywide Affordable Housing Trust to help residents buy and fix up homes (and provide jobs for local contractors), provide a $50 million Career Opportunity Scholarship Fund to provide college scholarships to 2,500 kids who would not be able to go to college otherwise, and to fund hundreds of millions for urgent and necessary storm-water improvements. (Please notice what happens on Shore Acres when it rains.)


The op-ed points out that the Rays Hines proposal cannot solve every city issue and was never meant to. The trouble is that it creates new ones; precisely because of what the city then will not be able to do, because it'll lack the budget. A giveaway of $1.6 billion today will stranglehold the city budget for decades to come.


Losing Baseball: The op-ed contends that if the Rays Hines proposal is rejected, we might lose the Rays. Are we sure? From what we hear, MLB is eyeing expansion rather than divisive movement of teams from city to city. Have we tried to renegotiate a fairer and balanced deal with them? Or like cities all over the country, are we going to be intimidated so much that we are afraid to try? And what if they do leave? St. Petersburg is one of the fastest growing cities in the country and the Gas Plant parcel of land is probably the largest piece of developable prime downtown property anywhere on the East Coast – developers are standing in line to participate. Land in the area is selling for up to $20 million/acre. And why not find a better location for the team? Closer to their fan base?


The op-ed suggests... "Hines would not be interested in developing the site without an attractor like the Rays.”  Really? Look at all the development taking place around the property right now. Why is that happening? St. Petersburg is the true anchor, not the Rays. St. Pete is widely regarded as a great place to live, work, and play. We have great museums, a great pier, great restaurants, great beaches, and great weather. The Rays, with over 20 years in the community and pitiful attendance at games, have had little or nothing to do with our growth. The stadium did not make this happen and is not making it happen.  


The new Orange Station development is a good example - being developed across from the Tropicana with offices and a hotel. The development team describes the project: “Orange Station is surrounded by a plethora of retail shops, restaurants, bars, breweries, arts and entertainment with immediate access to a Sun Runner Bus Rapid Transit stop and the Pinellas Trail....a neighborhood full of the city’s most popular diverse restaurants...Orange Station....in the center of it all.”  No mention of a stadium.  

 

Let's not forget our history...17 years ago the Rays proposed to build a stadium downtown and Hines was going to develop the whole Gas Plant property - without a stadium. And that was well before the recent explosion in developer interest. Now – with the property so prime for development – the op-ed suggests that they would not be interested in a deal without a stadium. How is that possible?


Proponents of Rays Hines - please look at the facts. In the very recent League of Women Voters’ survey, more than 80% of respondents said that the Rays Hines proposal is a bad deal for St. Petersburg.  We need a fair deal – not an outright gift to billionaires. The city has too many high priorities to make such an outrageous gift of its limited resources.

  

There is no question that redevelopment of the Gas Plant site is likely to be the greatest opportunity that St. Petersburg will ever have to make a profound impact on the future of the city. And it will become a beacon for generations to come. But there is no question that it can happen without a $1.6 billion cost to taxpayers.  


While the city and Rays Hines have made a proposal, it is up to the City Council Members to review what is presented, do their own due diligence, and then do what is their obligation - to meet their fiduciary and fiscal responsibilities to the citizens of the city. They are elected to manage public assets for the benefit of the citizens.  

 

Those of us opposed to the terms of the current Rays Hines proposal are confident that with the facts (not provided in the op-ed), that the City Council will do the right thing and not approve the proposal - a proposal with a massive transfer of $1.6 billion of taxpayers' resources so desperately needed for so many local needs... to billionaires. But either require a renegotiation of a fair deal or consider other alternatives.







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