ST. PETERSBURG — An activist group that led the rallying cry against a waterfront baseball stadium this summer has launched a campaign that would give voters greater control of how tax dollars are spent on professional sports.
Preserve Our Wallets and Waterfront is circulating two petitions to amend the city charter in 2009. One amendment would require voter approval on any city funding for professional sports facilities. The other would require voter approval for substantial changes to St. Petersburg's waterfront parks.
"Our concern was what happens if they try to pull another Tropicana Field," said founder Hal Freedman. "That's a lot of money for the taxpayers to pick up for a private, for-profit organization."
But city officials say the amendment language is too broad and could have unintended consequences on city recreational facilities or development opportunities.
"Basically, you couldn't do much of anything with your parks," said City Attorney John Wolfe.
The city charter states that any long-term private development of a waterfront park must be put to referendum, but the city itself can do what it wants with the land. The amendment on waterfront parks would change that.
The amendment on sports facilities is more far-reaching. It requires voter approval on "construction, renovation, maintenance, operation, replacement financing or refinancing of professional sports facilities," excluding existing contractual obligations.
Freedman said the amendments had to be broad to truly protect the city's tradition of open green space along the waterfront and guarantee tax dollars aren't spent without taxpayers' consent.
"The whole point is letting the people who are going to pay for it make the decision, rather than the officials and the team," he said.
The Tampa Bay Rays delayed their proposed $450-million waterfront stadium plan in June, even as team leaders stressed a new stadium was necessary to remain viable. A group of business leaders and residents has been tapped to figure out where to build a new stadium and how to finance it.