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Where are the facts supporting the Rays Hines deal?

I continue to read comments of those in favor of the Rays Hines deal, but I never see any facts.

We're seeing a lot of media sharing and resharing of Rays Hines marketing materials, including beautiful artist renderings of a utopian future at the Gas Plant site. Talk of rosy economic projections, affordable housing, new office buildings and all the jobs that will be created. And we're meant to conclude, if not for the Rays Hines deal, the city will be left wanting.

This last week alone, we saw the Rays' sponsorship pride of place at the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation (EDC) annual meeting, where reporters were even given The Rays are "Here to Stay" swag. Their plans were further promoted as a 'done deal' at Rays Fan Fest at the Trop and Mayor Welch did the same at multiple city engagements that he held. At a few events, the mayor even wore a Rays baseball shirt.

Then on que, local press repeated the Rays Hines messaging in their various media channels, and what great things are in store for the Gas Plant site. This reporting has proliferated despite the fact that stadiums and ballpark districts are provably ineffective economic development tools. Nor has there been any serious journalistic analysis of the deal itself.

Let's reset the table. There are things we all want for our beloved Gas Plant site, and for St. Pete, the community and its citizens. And despite what we're being told, St. Petersburg has been doing extremely well on its own in recent years attracting new developer interest, promoting business opportunities, and building and supporting area communities. We're on the national stage like never before, and not because of baseball. We know that's why, after many of years of threatening to leave, the Rays now want to stay.

Baseball too can be part of that picture, but not at any cost.

We think it's important to take emotionality out of the debate. The vote is not until May and if there is a time for the public to weigh in, it's now. Let's look at where we agree with the Rays Hines plan, so we can get at those things we'd like to improve.

We all agree ... that our future goals for our Gas Plant District should be that it:

  • Respects and honors the Historic Gas Plant neighborhood legacy,

  • Develops into a beautiful continuation of the flourishing communities occurring in the surrounding residential areas, such as Grand Central, Edge and Beach Drive,

  • Brings together live and workspaces for people at all income levels,

  • Provides a balanced amount of affordable housing and walkable areas,

  • Includes commercial office buildings to attract new businesses,

  • Provides for green spaces and the reawakening of Brooker Creek, and

  • Includes flexibility for change, as it will take many years to complete.

The actual details...are where we have real work to do on the deal.

The proposed financing plan is not "an impressive example of multi-level chess" as one proponent put it.  An impressive plan would be one where St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, and all its taxpayers' contributions were treated with transparency and a stake in the upside. And for Rays Hines to be held accountable to projected outcomes, such as affordable housing. A lot of the issues come down to simple math.

The Stadium Land: 22 Acres

Stadium Cost: St. Pete/Pinellas are asked to pay the stadium cost of $1.3 billion with interest.

Lost Real Estate Taxes: St. Pete/Pinellas are asked to give up $630 million in real estate taxes (the Rays pay $0).

No Rent: The Rays want to pay virtually no rent on the land where the stadium sits.

No Revenue Share: The Rays do not want to share any of the revenue with St. Pete or Pinellas County, including naming rights, ticket sales etc., not even from events like the recent WWE Royal Rumble. In fact, they don't even want our name associated with the team naming at all.

Developable Surrounding Land: 64 Acres

Hot Market: The balance of the Gas Plant site that will be developed for multi-use is being sold to Rays Hines for more than $500 million below value - representing a huge land giveaway - despite the fact that it is prime for development, with or without baseball.

Affordable Housing 'Get Out' Clause: Rays Hines can get out of developing any of the affordable housing stipulations for a very small penalty. These affordable housing goals are extremely important to our community and should be made into requirements.

St. Petersburg Loses Decision-making Control: While Rays Hines will control the whole property, they don't have to develop any of it - and can sell it off to other third parties that we may or may not want in our community...and St. Petersburg has no control. See our blog The Stadium Deal – Too Much for Too Little, A Lawyer's Look at the Rays Hines Proposal.

What's a Favorably Constructed Deal Look Like?

Rays Hines likes to tell St. Petersburg, as often as they can, how they represent good corporate citizens. We believe good neighbors do as they say. If Rays Hines believe the deal will be so good for the team and profitable for Hines to develop for St. Pete, it seems to us that as 'good corporate citizens' that they would want to pay their fair share of rent and taxes, and a fair value for the land - as other businesses do.

If the Rays paid fair rent and fair taxes, and Rays Hines paid fair value for the developable land...the city and county would save $2.4 billion. *That's money that can then go to our infrastructure, schools and public safety. Or how about our badly needed $760 million stormwater hardening master plan?

But sadly, of late, St. Petersburg has been presented with a veiled threat... a 'take it or leave it' from Rays Hines, about skipping town if we don't agree to their proposal as presented. This is a tried-and-true negotiating tactic across all major sports. However, no one should be intimidated by any implied threat, especially not to the disadvantage of the community and its taxpayers.

Pinellas County Commissioners and St. Petersburg City Council Members need to take their time and do their own due diligence, including employing independent experts as needed - and once completed, share their conclusions with their constituents and get their input before any vote. Without the facts and without sharing the information with the voters prior to taking action would be fiscally irresponsible.



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