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Should St. Pete council members see Rays, Hines cash flow projections?

The document is not a public record, but a City Council member voting on the deal wants to see it.
 
Lisset Hanewicz, District 4 St. Petersburg City council member representing the neighborhoods of Crescent Lake, Historic Old Northeast, Euclid St. Paul, Woodlawn and Meadowlawn on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in St. Petersburg. Hanewicz wants to see the Tampa Bay Rays' and development partner Hines' 20-year cash flow analysis, which were required by the city to redevelop the Historic Gas Plant District. The projections have been made available to city officials but not to City Council members, as the Rays and Hines say they are exempt from public record.
Lisset Hanewicz, District 4 St. Petersburg City council member representing the neighborhoods of Crescent Lake, Historic Old Northeast, Euclid St. Paul, Woodlawn and Meadowlawn on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in St. Petersburg. Hanewicz wants to see the Tampa Bay Rays' and development partner Hines' 20-year cash flow analysis, which were required by the city to redevelop the Historic Gas Plant District. The projections have been made available to city officials but not to City Council members, as the Rays and Hines say they are exempt from public record. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
Published Oct. 18, 2023|Updated Oct. 18, 2023

Whether the Tampa Bay Rays get a new stadium half paid by public dollars depends on votes from the St. Petersburg City Council and the Pinellas County Commission.

The Rays and their development partner Hines were required by the city of St. Petersburg to submit a 20-year cash flow analysis as part of their proposal to redevelop the Historic Gas Plant District. But they don’t want projections of their sources of money and where it would be spent disclosed to the public, according to emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times in a records request, or even to City Council members.

That isn’t sitting right with Lisset Hanewicz.

“As a City Council member who is one of the elected representatives making the final decision on the largest project in the city’s history, I don’t see a reason why Administration was privy to this information and not City Council,” Hanewicz wrote Friday in an email to city officials. “If it wasn’t relevant, it would not have been requested in the RFP.”

City and county officials have negotiated a tentative deal with the Rays and Houston-based development group Hines. The city’s work is more complicated, as it has to come up with money for a stadium and infrastructure for the surrounding 69 acres without raising taxes. Based on projections from city documents, the combined public subsidy could hit $1.29 billion over time with interest.

“It is concerning that they have taken this stance and are choosing not to disclose with the elected officials who are the final arbiters of such an agreement,” Hanewicz said in her email, adding that she’ll continue the conversation when the City Council meets to discuss the deal for the first time Oct. 26. City officials have denied repeated requests to answer specific questions about the project’s financial details until that public discussion.

City spokesperson Erica Riggins said Wednesday that council members will be able to ask representatives from the Rays and Hines any clarifying questions at the Oct. 26 meeting.

Hanewicz’s reply to City Administrator Rob Gerdes and other city officials wasn’t included in response to a Tampa Bay Times request for public records of city council members’ communications with city staff last week. Hanewicz provided that email after an inquiry from a reporter.

“I have spoken to Rays/Hines about the 20 year cash flow projection that was included in the RFP submittal and they have chosen to keep this document confidential,” Gerdes wrote to Hanewicz earlier Friday morning in an email that was included in the records provided. “I cannot recall any other financial document related to projected income for Rays/Hines on the development that I have reviewed.”

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Rays spokesperson Rafaela Amador declined to comment.

Emails show that prior to the Rays Sept. 19 announcement, Hanewicz asked city officials for several records, including documents with financial analysis or modeling done with respect to the Hines/Rays investment or return on investment or “any direct or indirect benefit to the Rays of such redevelopment.”

“I’ve been working with administration to get as much info as possible on the deal. We don’t have all the information,” she told the Times. “This has not been approved by City Council and we are the elected officials who are going to give this final approval. We have a fiduciary duty to do our due diligence as we were elected to do.”

In its request for proposals issued in August 2022, the city required bid groups to include a 20-year cash flow analysis. That document typically shows cash flow estimates into and out of a business from operations, investing and financing.

The Rays and Hines wrote in their proposal to the city that their analysis was submitted separately because “the projections are confidential and proprietary and are trade secrets under Florida law.”

“Accordingly, the projections are exempt from disclosure under the Florida public records laws,” the proposal reads.