ST. PETERSBURG — As the debate intensified in the last two months about where to build a new baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, Rick Mussett remained silent.
He says his talking could have derailed a prominent real estate executive's proposal to build a new stadium in the Carillon business park just west of the Howard Frankland Bridge, in the Gateway area of the city.
"I was aware something was being developed," said Mussett, St. Petersburg's senior administrator for development. "We treat these with confidentiality to keep trust with developers."
Last week, Council Chair Leslie Curran accused Mussett and Mayor Bill Foster of keeping the council in the dark for a year about Darryl LeClair's plan. The public officially learned of the proposal when LeClair sent Foster a letter seeking permission last week to brief the City Council.
Although whispers ran through City Hall about a secret plan in the last year, Mussett said no such plan existed. Foster said he knew LeClair was working on a plan, but he stayed away from the specifics because the proposal had not been revealed publicly.
In the real estate field, developers commonly request information from city officials when considering possible projects. Officials typically remain silent until the plans are finished or publicly released by developers.
Mussett said he provided LeClair with information that he would give any business or developer who wants to do business in the city.
For example, they often request planning, zoning and building requirements, legal restrictions, available economic incentives and economic and demographic data.
While requesting the information, businesses and developers often request formal or informal confidentiality during the early stages before they've determined if a project is feasible, Mussett said.
LeClair recently shared his proposal with two Pinellas County commissioners, but Mussett stressed he has not seen the presentation.
"I didn't know if it was ever going to come to maturation," Mussett said. "We didn't advance the proposal. I don't have any idea on what he is going to present."
LeClair is expected to unmask the proposal next month before the City Council.
Curran says she's still troubled that Mussett and his staff didn't share details about the plan, adding: "What concerns me is that staffers denied knowing something."
Council members, Foster said, shouldn't be surprised that staffers don't divulge information on building projects, not just baseball stadiums. With an improving economy, at least 10 developers have expressed interest in different projects, he said.
"People want to build," Foster said. "Until a developer has money in hand or the means to build, we can't talk."
Mark Puente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.