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Tropicana Field has a first date, not a proposal

Today is a big day in the process of deciding whether the Tampa Bay Rays will get a new waterfront stadium in downtown St. Petersburg.

There's a 10 a.m. deadline for developers to give the city their proposals for what to do with the site of Tropicana Field, the existing stadium.

The idea is that the old stadium site will help pay for the new one, by being sold, redeveloped as private property, and added to the tax rolls.

So, here's hoping for all the best this morning.

Bring on the artists' renderings! Bring on the green space, the shops! Bring on the urban villages!

But let's be crystal clear about what today is not.

Today is not the day that "proves" the stadium idea will "work." We'll still be a long way from that.

The only thing today will show is whether there are any companies with any ideas that might work.

I do not mean to sound like a party-pooper. I want the plan to work. But at times like these, St. Petersburg is prone to being swept off its feet like a teenager with a crush.

How 20 years fly! Consider an article in this newspaper dated March 20, 1988:

ST. PETERSBURG — The Bay Plaza Cos. plan to build a Mediterranean village of shops, offices and restaurants in downtown St. Petersburg and finish by 1992.

Company officials say it will be an ornate, "food and fashion" mall featuring two nationally known department stores and at least a dozen new restaurants near the waterfront. …

Company president Neil Elsey predicted Friday that the Bay Plaza partners actually will build all the projects in three years, starting by January 1989 and ending in 1992.

This gasbaggery was enough for St. Petersburg to fork over its downtown, its property, its rights of way and its historical heritage. And though it all came to naught, the city, in pathetic denial, allowed it to drag on for years.

I am sure that the companies making proposals today are first-rate and honorable.

But that will not be enough. Nothing will be enough except the eventual contract.

Here is what that contract ought to say:

The taxpayers will never have to contribute any other money.

I don't care if the stadium gets only half-built and sits there rusting.

I don't care if World War III breaks out in the meantime, or if the Tropicana developer files Chapter 11, Chapter 7, or Chapter Zillion.

Never, ever, not one dime.

Here is what would be good: a vault filled with $300-million in platinum bars, with the city holding the only key, to be used the first time that the Tropicana site fails to generate the required revenue.

I would also like the developers' firstborn children, and their grandchildren's piggy banks. I'd like insurance policies and performance bonds, too.

That's the attitude that St. Petersburg should maintain as it opens the envelopes.

But if history is any guide, by the end of the day, city leaders will be gushing about how "excited" they are. And they will be scrawling the name of the developer in their school notebooks, surrounded by little hearts, and sighing.

• • •

Got a question or comment about current events? I'm holding a live chat on TroxBlog from noon to 1 p.m. today. Look under the "Blogs" menu at www.tampabay.com.

Tropicana Field has a first date, not a proposal 03/17/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 10:43am]

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