Be wary of the man who urges an action in which he himself incurs no risk.
— Joaquin Setanti
(I dunno, some guy)
Between now and early August, St. Petersburg, the Tampa Bay Rays and the city's newly chosen developer for Tropicana Field need to make a really good deal, if the Rays are going to get a new baseball stadium on their first try.
The only things that matter now are the contracts.
This is not about whether St. Petersburg "wants to be a big-league city" or whether poopy old "naysayers" are in the way of "progress" or any other such rhetoric.
If the deal gets better, the idea still has a chance with the voters in November. Otherwise, it is no wonder some people already are talking about Plan B down the road.
At this moment, the city's dealings with the proposed buyer-developer of the Tropicana site, Archstone-Madison, consist of:
(1) Pretty drawings with no guarantees of anything yet.
(2) An offered price that doesn't even pay off the existing Tropicana debt.
Besides these issues, there are a couple of others that bear mentioning. The first of these is liability for tearing down Tropicana Field.
Again, we should not care that the city is "comfortable" that it will cost less than $5-million, which is all the developer will pay. What happens otherwise?
Secondly, despite the city's confident claim that any remaining environmental problems on the Trop site can be fixed for less than $100,000, that has to be nailed down too.
What will the contract say about future problems on the Tropicana site? Most of the site was not tested in the original dome construction in the 1980s, despite its past use for many industrial purposes. Who would pay for testing, cleanup and liability?
Let's say that all of this is routine contract stuff and no problem. We still have other sticking points.
The city ought to hold the Rays to their original rhetoric — that the public's share of the stadium debt will be covered by the new taxes that come from all the neat stuff to be built on the Tropicana site.
Why, then, shouldn't we write that into the contracts, with the other parties guaranteeing any shortfall?
It shouldn't cost them that much, if anything — we can call the difference "rent" — and it might be the magic bullet. The parties could then campaign on the idea that the new stadium will be, in essence, "free" to taxpayers.
Free! We make more than we spend! Now, that is a deal.
That is the big enchilada. After the Rays and/or developer make that major concession, they can then twist Mayor Rick Baker's arm on his demand for more parking, and he can go, ow, ow, okay, uncle.
Then the Rays give Baker some kind of concession on the team name. Not "St. Petersburg Rays," which is too parochial. Maybe "Florida Rays at St. Petersburg," once that team in Miami changes its name. Or something.
An ironclad deal. Guarantees from the developer. Guarantees the public's debt will be covered. Every contingency covered. All tied up with a nice bow.
It might still work.
But anything less, any open-ended risk to the taxpayers, is probably enough to kill a proposal that is already unpopular with most voters.
Good luck negotiating, y'all.