St. Petersburg City Council Begins Rays Stadium “Chess” game
As so many of you might heard by now through my past entries, the ABC (A Baseball Community) Coalition, which was formed to collaborate and conduct research and possible recommendations for a new Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium has made their final reports available on their committee’s future thoughts and location proposals about the possible financing and construction of a new stadium. And the Coalition were completely open to discussing these findings in depth with the St. Petersburg City Council, before a memo sent by the City Council makes the proposed meeting moot and pointless at this stage of the game.
For about the last 18 months, the ABC Coalition, which was composed of 11+ selected Tampa Bay community leaders and power brokers have met throughout that time to whittle down the expanding list of the potential “Who, where, when and why?” of the stadium issues and proposals before finalizing their report earlier this week. that might come up in future discussions and gave their opinions and finding to these matters. And just as the Coalition was ready to embark on a long Public Relations mission to discuss the finding with the St. Petersburg City Council, Pinellas County Commission and the Pinellas Visitor’s Bureau, and possibly the Hillsborough County governing bodies, the St. Pete City Council decided to send the first volley across the Coalition’s bow to show their disapproval of the Coalition’s final report.
Most people outside of the Tampa Bay region might not know that the two counties, Pinellas and Hillsborough, have fought back and forth for the last few decades on this entire baseball issue from Day 1. And because the Coalition expanded their site locations to include possible Hillsborough/Tampa stadium locations in their findings, this was considered a blow to the initial formation plan of the St. Petersburg city officials for the group to conduct their studies on possible St. Petersburg locations, with no mention of including Hillsborough County sites in their discussions.
It so offended the basic premise of the initial formalization this study group that St. Petersburg City Attorney John Wolfe and St. Petersburg Senior Administrator co-wrote a stern recent memorandum to the ABC Coalition stating the ” any relationship the city( St. Petersburg) may have had with ABC has been effectively severed.” And as I stated before in previous blog posts, this Chess match is just beginning to show it’s first moves and this issue is considered far from over, and the memo and cancellation of the group’s presentation to the St. Petersburg City Council might just be the first “Pawn’s movement” by local government on this issue.
Because the St. Petersburg City Council considers the Coalition a “third-party” representative in this manner, they may have openly invited discussions or discussed their findings possibly with the Rays before finalizing their report. That is a direct violation of the Rays lease with the City of St. Petersburg to not have a “third party” do the talking for the team. By contract, the Rays are forbidden from discussing any possible moves before their contracts expires “officially” in 2026. Because the Coalition liberally discussed possible stadium site and issues with the Rays.
And this might have put a bump in the road to further discussion by the Coalition with the City Council, but they are still more than willing to have discussions with the Rays in the future as to the team’s stadium requests….But not through a “third party” voice like the ABC Coalition. But what might also be irritating the St. Petersburg City Council might be the simple fact that there are no recorded minutes or notes of a possible discussion with the Rays to see what input or secondary requests the Rays might have requested from the Coalition to slip in their findings.
But this same ABC Coalition did not heed the constant warnings from the St. Petersburg City Council over the past 18 months to not discuss or even include possible Hillsborough County sites since this could be considered a direct violation of the Rays Tropicana Field contract. The memo sent by St. Petersburg City Attorney Wolfe also stated: “No third party should be interfering” with the Tropicana Field contract, the memo said. “The city should not condone or permit, directly or indirectly, any such third party interference.”
The fact that the Coalition took on the possibilities of including the Hillsborough County sites showed the true fact that the group extended their reach beyond the first scope of the Coalition and might have been possibly pushed that direction by another party, possibly the Rays.
St. Petersburg City Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran said she would not even consider putting the ABC presentation on the upcoming City Council’s meeting agenda. She stated to the St. Petersburg Times recently that the coalition “kind of took on a life of its own,” she said. “The purpose of it to begin with, as far as I understand, was to focus on St. Petersburg, and I’m not willing to bring any idea forward that goes outside the city.”
People outside this region forget that the formulation of this Coalition actually came on the heels of the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg trying to find common ground after opposition to the sail-inspired Rays stadium plans for the city’s waterfront which was met with a hailstorm of mixed reactions on the proposed stadium, and it’s site along the waterfront. This present ever expanding stalemate with the St. Petersburg governing body is just another setback for the Rays possible stadium ideas, and the inclusion of the two possible Tampa sites has both parties balking and searching for a suitable compromise.
This is just the first folly to come to light in the ever growing drama that will encompass the Rays seeking a possible stadium location and construction agreement in the next 5-10 years. Who knows if the Coalition’s finding are a non-evasive play by the Rays to see what opposition or bridges they might need to mend in further discussions with groups on either side of Tampa Bay.
If indeed it was a silent message sent by the Rays exploring options beyond St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, the St. Petersburg City Council made sure to let their legal and personal opinions ring loud and clear to the heavens. I have to say I am proud of the City Council standing up and not letting the ABC Coalition perform a “song and dance” routine in front of the City Council without full disclosure or upfront acknowledgement of their intentions.
Many times in the past we have seen civic groups bow low and take it on the chin for sports teams, or their hidden ploys to poke the bear in the room and see how angry he will get. Well, the ABC Coalition got their slap-in-the-face by the City of St. Petersburg. It will be fun to see how they readjust and either re-commit or fade away after this latest folly. Next up is a possible Pinellas County Commission whose bonds helped finance half of the initial funding for Tropicana Field via a Bed Tax. ABC is hoping for a presentation to this Commission possibly in March or April 2010. Who knows, maybe the PCC might also see a set of hands poking out from the back of the ABC Coalition’s spokesperson and call “foul” themselves. …. Anything is possible in politics.