Why? Most fingers pointed on Monday to the ownership group led by Washington, D.C., lawyer Stephen W. Porter as the reason Tampa Bay was not recommended for a National League expansion franchise.
"My belief is that something went awry in the Porter group," said former St. Petersburg Mayor Robert Ulrich, who remains part of an effort to continue the city's baseball quest.
"They simply chose to keep their dilemma to themselves until the nearly 12th hour," said Ulrich. "Even city staff was not aware that they were facing a considerable cash shortfall dilemma."
Ulrich said he had learned that partners in the Porter group, including millionaire real estate investors Sidney and Allen Kohl, were able to pull together only $21-million for the venture. Another $40-million to $50-million was to be borrowed, he said.
It was not nearly enough.
The National League had said it preferred ownership groups with a single large investor, and Sidney Kohl had said in February he and his brother should be considered lead investors. The group also maintained that it met baseball's most basic financial requirement: that at least 60 percent of the $95-million franchise fee must be provided straight from investors _ not loans.
In the end, however, it wasn't enough for baseball.
"None of those commitments (in the group) were the kinds of commitments you make as a true financial hitter, a heavyweight hitter," Ulrich said. "It was financial commitments by financial lightweights. That doesn't mean they don't have the resources. That means they elected not to employ their resources for the purposes of baseball."
The city, which would provide the Florida Suncoast Dome for a franchise, was not made aware of the shortage until about a week ago, said Paul Getting, executive vice president of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. The news came after a meeting of a National League committee that was studying ownership groups in the six cities competing for two expansion franchises, Getting said.
It was then that it "became reasonably clear that all was not well," he said. "It was everyone's general impression that the major owners (the Kohls) would commit the majority of the funding."
Porter defended his group, which was formed in June 1990 and was chosen by the National League in December as the best of three local ownership groups.
"Honestly, I do not believe it was the capital plan," he said. "I honestly do not believe it. If people want to speculate that the Kohls put in less money than was expected, what's the difference? The money was there from the others. So what? Our capital plan is within the limits of baseball."
Porter said his group's financial plan was similar to the one put together by the ownership group in Denver, which was recommended for an expansion team with Miami's Wayne Huizenga.
"We didn't have a Coors brewery, we didn't have one man who said he'd write a check for $95-million," Porter said, referring to Denver and Miami respectively.
But local baseball boosters who watched Tampa Bay's baseball effort drop from leading contender last year to an also-ran, insisted it was the ownership group's lack of financial punch that led to the slip.
"That's why we didn't get the team _ very clearly why we didn't get the team," Getting said.
Getting said he had learned that the Kohls' investment had dropped dramatically from $50-million initially to $5-million. He said he had not seen the group's financial prospectus but got the information from someone who had _ someone in the ownership group.
Ulrich, who is part of a Chamber of Commerce group trying to keep the city's baseball effort alive, said he had learned that the group initially planned to invest $30-million and attract an additional $30-million over time from limited partners. But the group's total investment from all partners _ limited and general _ came to about $21-million, Ulrich said.
Sidney Kohl has repeatedly declined to specify his interest in the group or that of his brother. On Monday, he did not return telephone messages and did not respond to inquiries at his Palm Beach home by a Times reporter.
"It appears we got caught in a bad spot," said Bill Bunker, executive director of the Pinellas Sports Authority. "Apparently we had everything but the one last piece we had to have and that was an ownership group that could or wanted to pay the price."
Porter said earlier Monday from his office: "The easy part is for the business community (in St. Petersburg) to criticize and dump on the ownership group."
Getting said he wanted to concentrate on continuing efforts to attract a major league team.
"I don't think anybody wants to dissect and go back and point fingers and say bad things about people," he said.
Besides Porter and the Kohls, the group's members include: R. Mark Bostick, who heads a leading trucking business based in Auburndale; Roy Disney, vice chairman of the Walt Disney Co.; St. Petersburg lawyer and businessman Henry Esteva; local beer distributor Claude Focardi; Tampa lawyer J. Rex Farrior Jr.; and S. Joel Schur, who with Porter, his cousin, owns the St. Petersburg Cardinals minor-league baseball team.
As for Porter, Focardi said: "I think he worked his heart out on this thing. I think he did everything he could do."
_ Staff writers Marc Topkin and Stephen Koff contributed to this report.
The debt of the Dome
By the time the bonds issued to finance construction of the Florida Suncoast Dome are paid off in the ear 2016, St. Petersburg will have spent more than $137-million Of the $234-million total. Here's an annual breakdown of the debt, and who pays it:
$ 137,676, 045
St. Petersburg's Pinellas County's Portion paid by Total
share share reserve acct. payment
1990 $3,899,024 $2,280,000 $651,750 $6,830,774
1991 $4,894,549 $2,300,000 $651,750 $7,846,299
1992 $5,389,424 $2,320,000 $651,750 $8,361,174
1993 $7,025,874 $2,602,000 $651,750 $10,279,624
1994 $7,338,074 $2,606,000 $651,750 $10,595,824
1995 $7,352,984 $2,610,000 $651,750 $10,614,734
1996 $7,368,489 $2,616,000 $651,750 $10,636,239
1997 $7,388,554 $2,624,000 $651,750 $10,664,304
1998 $7,413,936 $2,632,000 $651,750 $10,697,686
1999 $6,837,524 $2,641,000 $651,750 $10,130,274
2000 $6,167,430 $2,652,000 $651,750 $9,471,180
2001 $6,202,459 $2,665,000 $651,750 $9,519,209
2002 $5,777,119 $2,678,000 $651,750 $9,106,869
2003 $3,875,450 $2,691,000 $651,750 $7,218,200
2004 $3,919,288 $2,707,000 $651,750 $7,278,038
2005 $3,967,819 $2,725,000 $651,750 $7,344,569
2006 $4,019,231 $2,745,000 $651,750 $7,415,981
2007 $4,076,356 $2,765,000 $651,750 $7,493,106
2008 $4,142,431 $2,789,000 $651,750 $7,583,181
2009 $4,201,850 $2,822,000 $651,750 $7,675,600
2010 $4,263,847 $2,867,000 $651,750 $7,782,597
2011 $4,330,103 $2,919,000 $651,750 $7,900,853
2012 $4,402,300 $2,973,000 $651,750 $8,027,050
2013 $4,482,750 $3,033,000 $651,750 $8,167,500
2014 $4,574,028 $3,102,000 $651,750 $8,327,778
2015 $4,365,152 $3,175,000 $958,123 $8,498,275
2016 0 0 $8,698,013 $8,698,013
Total $137,676,045 $70,539,000 $25,949,886 $234,164,931
Source: City of St. Petersburg