Monday, December 18, 2017
News Roundup

Proposal to let Rays explore stadium sites goes nowhere

ST. PETERSBURG — A proposal to let the Tampa Bay Rays examine stadium sites in Hillsborough County went nowhere Thursday. St. Petersburg City Council members even rejected a motion to have their attorney evaluate the proposal's legal implications.

At the same time, signs emerged that the team and city might at least start talking directly about their three-year stadium standoff.

Owner Stuart Sternberg and other Rays officials have tentatively agreed to meet with Mayor Bill Foster on Feb. 15 to discuss stadium matters face to face, the Rays said.

And after Thursday's meeting, team officials seemed to suggest they would be willing to present their case directly to the City Council — just as they have in recent meetings with Hillsborough and Pinellas county commissioners.

"Today's proceedings highlight the need for conversation between the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg,'' senior vice president Michael Kalt said in a statement. "We would welcome that conversation with any and all interested city leaders.''

The council's 90-minute stadium discussion was prompted by a proposal from council member Charlie Gerdes to amend the contract that binds the Rays to Tropicana Field through 2027.

The Rays say the Trop's location is partly to blame for poor attendance and they want a new venue. Foster has forbidden the team from exploring new sites outside the city.

The Gerdes plan would have given the Rays three years to examine sites in either Pinellas or Hillsborough counties in exchange for an annual $1.42 million "exploration fee." That is roughly equal to the city's operating subsidy on the Trop for police protection and insurance.

The money could be used for vital public functions, Gerdes said, and the amendment would assure that the city retains veto power over any new stadium location. He also said St. Petersburg should fare well in any comparison between the counties.

"The position we are taking that allowing them to look (in Hillsborough) means they are leaving is totally contrary to the belief we all have that St. Petersburg is a great place,'' Gerdes said. "I don't think we should be playing defense. We should be playing offense. We should be beating our chest and saying St. Petersburg is a great place to play.''

But other council members spoke against the idea, and City Attorney John Wolfe warned that the proposed amendment could weaken the city's legal position if the Rays unilaterally broke the Trop contract.

Foster repeatedly told the council to "listen to your attorney.''

So Gerdes withdrew his original idea and made a new motion: Have Wolfe formally study the proposed amendment for 30 days and report back on its legal implications.

Even that motion died on a 4-4 tie, with council members Karl Nurse, Leslie Curran and Wengay Newton supporting Gerdes. Jim Kennedy, Steve Kornell, Jeff Danner and Bill Dudley were opposed.

Even so, Wolfe said he would review Gerdes' proposed amendment and render an opinion within two months.

The Trop contract states that baseball brings incalculable benefits to the community, which could theoretically translate to large damages if the team left early. Wolfe has said letting the team evaluate Tampa sites could undercut the claim of terrible harm from the loss of the Rays.

On Thursday, he suggested that the team's true intent is to leave the Tampa Bay area altogether.

"I have dealt with Major League Baseball owners over the years. They look long range,'' Wolfe said. "They have a plan, and they very often get there.''

Kennedy, a lawyer, agreed. When St. Petersburg developer Darryl LeClair unveiled a stadium plan at Carillon Business Park last year, the Rays would not even discuss it, Kennedy noted.

"The fact that they refused an option like that when they still have 15 years left on the (Trop) use agreement may indicate that their objective is not another county,'' Kennedy said. "Sometimes the hardest thing is to hold your cards and let the game play out.''

Danner suggested that some kind of civic group examine the Carillon proposal as well as transportation and stadium financing possibilities all over the region. "I can't imagine anything wrong if people in Hillsborough weigh in on that,'' he said. "There has to be some way to move this conversation forward.''

Kornell said public debate has been unfair to St. Petersburg. The Rays talk of how few people live within a 30-minute drive of the Trop. But that doesn't square with actual rush hour traffic on the Howard Frankland Bridge, Kornell said. It's more difficult to drive from Pinellas to Hillsborough than vice-versa.

Sternberg recently noted that only 300 season ticket accounts, representing about 800 fans, trace back to St. Petersburg addresses.

"Nobody has mentioned to us how many season tickets there are from Hillsborough County, supposedly a mecca for baseball," Kornell said.

Across the bay, other public officials watched with interest.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he was disappointed that Gerdes' original "exploration fee'' never gained traction.

"I understand why the city administration is hesitant to do it,'' Buckhorn said. "But by the same token, that seemed to be a way to at least start the discussion."

Hillsborough County Commission chairman Ken Hagan said he was encouraged that Sternberg and Foster will meet next week. But he noted the Rays typically shy away from public stadium talks once the season starts.

"I hope this delay doesn't postpone serious negotiations for another year," Hagan said.

Nurse, who chairs the council, said the city needs to renew talks with the team, but "it doesn't necessarily have to be before City Council. If they can get the conversation started with the mayor, that is fine."

Staff writers Bill Varian and Richard Danielson contributed to this report.

Comments
Editorial: Steaks, planes and campaign cash reveal Corcoran’s hypocrisy

Editorial: Steaks, planes and campaign cash reveal Corcoran’s hypocrisy

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran lives the high life. He’s raising big money for the state Republican Party and his political committee, and the cash is being spent on junkets to Napa Valley, charter planes and steak dinners. Lots of steak dinn...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
Woman, 30, killed in Clearwater shooting while child sat in car

Woman, 30, killed in Clearwater shooting while child sat in car

CLEARWATER — A 30-year-old Palm Harbor woman was killed in a drive-by shooting on Sunday evening while riding in a car with her 10-year-old daughter, according to Clearwater police.The shooting was reported at 8:19 p.m. near the 800 block of Belleair...
Updated: 15 minutes ago
Uber engaged in

Uber engaged in "illegal’ spying on rivals, ex-employee says

SAN FRANCISCO — For years, Uber spied on key executives, drivers and employees at rival ride-hailing companies as part of a larger intelligence-gathering operation that spanned multiple countries, according to a letter made public in a federal court ...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
Tampa International Airport hasn’t suffered an Atlanta-style loss of power, but it is prepared for one

Tampa International Airport hasn’t suffered an Atlanta-style loss of power, but it is prepared for one

TAMPA — Tampa International Airport sees about one-fifth as many passengers as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but a major power outage here could cause disruptions to air travel, too.That said, TIA has taken steps to create "redund...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Editorial: Modest improvements to unneeded tax cut package

Editorial: Modest improvements to unneeded tax cut package

The massive tax cut legislation Congress is poised to start voting on today remains terrible public policy. It raises the federal debt by more than $1.4 trillion over the next decade, and it primarily benefits businesses and the wealthy over the poor...
Updated: 1 hour ago

St. Pete woman killed in Tampa crash trying to avoid dog on I-275

TAMPA — A dog that ran onto northbound Interstate 275 caused a chain-reaction crash that killed a 70-year-old St. Pete Beach woman on Monday afternoon, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The crash took place at about 10:45 a.m. on I-275, north o...
Updated: 1 hour ago

 
Updated: 1 hour ago
Florida grand jury investigates FSU frat pledge’s death

Florida grand jury investigates FSU frat pledge’s death

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A grand jury is meeting to consider filing charges in the death of a Florida State University fraternity pledge.The Leon County grand jury on Monday interviewed Florida State administrators and those who were at a party with ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Land O’Lakes teacher faces felony child abuse charge

LAND O’LAKES — A special needs teacher at Oakstead Elementary School was arrested on a felony charge of child abuse, accused of striking and kicking a 15-year-old in her care over the weekend, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.The event ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Pasco sheriff: Boy, 10, shot while playing with gun

DADE CITY — A 10-year-old boy was shot Monday in what the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is calling an "accidental" shooting that took place when he was left home unattended with another child.Deputies were called at 2:57 p.m. When they arrived at the...
Updated: 1 hour ago