Tuesday, August 14, 2018
News Roundup

Romano: Instead of fussing, St. Pete should help the Rays pack

You might recall, this stadium saga began with a debate over whether St. Petersburg should allow the Rays to have conversations about venturing outside the city’s limits.

Then came the debate about who owns the redevelopment rights at Tropicana Field. Then there was the debate about St. Pete’s possible compensation if the Rays left before their lease was up. Then came the debate about the best location for a stadium, and then whether there was space in downtown Tampa.

And now?

We’re circling back to the original debate about whether the Rays can continue talking to folks in Tampa because that initial agreement is rapidly approaching its end date on Dec. 31.

So if I may interject:

Arrrggghhh!

Look, I realize this conversation needs to happen. Legal documents were signed, and new documents may have to be drawn up. Times reporter Charlie Frago talked to a lot of the main players and all their concerns are legitimate.

But this cannot be a stumbling block. It shouldn’t even be a speed bump. Lock the lawyers in a room, put a Justin Bieber album on repeat, and don’t let them out until a new agreement is reached.

Better yet, just figure it out before Dec. 31.

Why is this important?

Two reasons.

No. 1, timing is critical. Both St. Petersburg and Tampa are in the middle of downtown revivals. Ground is breaking on Tampa’s Water Street project, and the stadium could be the missing piece in the long-sought link between Ybor City and Channelside. In St. Pete, the 85 acres of Tropicana Field land could finally bring a much-needed corporate base to a downtown already growing flush with housing and entertainment.

Both Tampa and St. Pete need to have some certainty about their directions because the economy is good right now, and you don’t want to miss that window of opportunity to build.

No. 2, we still haven’t had the important debate. For all the arguing and fussing during the last 10 years, the building of a new stadium was always going to come down to the money.

The Rays are not going to build a stadium on their own. Hillsborough County is not going to fully fund one either. So the team and community need to find some kind of balance that works for both sides, or else begin planning for a future without Major League Baseball in the marketplace.

The point is, all the other debates are ultimately minor and pointless.

I know there might be some temptation on the St. Pete side to revamp the agreement with the Rays to extract more cash if the team leaves Tropicana before the lease ends in 2027.

Honestly, I think that’s shortsighted.

Instead of putting up more impediments, St. Pete should be helping the Rays pack their bags. Whatever extra cash the city might extract from the deal is going to pale in comparison to the windfall of kickstarting the development of the Trop land as soon as possible.

If the city wants to adjust the agreement, it should consider this:

Either the Rays come up with a signed deal in Tampa in the next 12 months, or else the team agrees to immediately begin negotiating for a new stadium on the Trop land.

Either way, St. Pete needs to know how to proceed.

The city cannot be stuck in some construction purgatory, wondering if that Tropicana land will have a new stadium as a centerpiece or if it will be completely reimagined.

At this point, we should be beyond the Tropicana Field lease argument. The real negotiations involve developers, Hillsborough politicians and the Rays.

Somehow, those three groups have to come up with the money it will take to build a stadium. And the longer this goes on, the more the price will rise. Don’t be shocked if the sticker price for a retractable roof stadium approaches $900 million before it’s all over. So does that turn into a split of $300 million each? It probably won’t be that precise, but it’s also probably not far off.

Maybe the politicians say it’s not worth the investment.

Maybe the developers agree.

That’s entirely possible, but it’s better to know as soon as possible.

Any other debate is just wasting time.

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