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St. Petersburg City Council member seeks public vote on Rays stadium

The straw poll on the March 2024 primary presidential election ballot would be nonbinding.
 
St. Petersburg Council members John Muhammad, left, and Richie Floyd attend the St. Petersburg City Council meeting where city officials and the Tampa Bay Rays met for the first time in public to discuss the terms of the Rays stadium deal and larger Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment on Thursday at St. Petersburg City Hall.
St. Petersburg Council members John Muhammad, left, and Richie Floyd attend the St. Petersburg City Council meeting where city officials and the Tampa Bay Rays met for the first time in public to discuss the terms of the Rays stadium deal and larger Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment on Thursday at St. Petersburg City Hall. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Oct. 27, 2023|Updated Oct. 27, 2023

A St. Petersburg City Council member wants to ask voters whether they support the public subsidizing part of the cost to build a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Richie Floyd is seeking a meeting to discuss a potential straw poll on the stadium agreement that would be included on the March 19, 2024, presidential preference primary ballot. The City Council could vote Thursday on whether to schedule that discussion for Nov. 9.

Floyd told the Tampa Bay Times that he has worked with the city’s legal department to ensure the timing would work to get the question on the ballot with the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections. He said the city’s budget contingency of $1 million for the Historic Gas Plant District could cover the cost of the poll.

“It’s cheap and easy to ask voters their opinion on a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Floyd said. “I don’t see any downside on having the city’s residents have their voice heard.”

City clerk Chan Srinivasa sought a cost estimate from the elections office on Oct. 16. According to emails obtained by the Times, it could cost the city between $20,491 and $58,202 to put the referendum question on the ballot, depending on the length of the ballot, which depends on how many municipal contests and questions there are.

The estimates assume there is a Democratic contest for president. Elections Administrator Wendy Grimes wrote in an email that if there is no primary contest for the Republican or Democratic party, “the costs may be significantly higher.”

The elections office said it would need the ballot language in English and Spanish by Dec. 19. City attorney Jackie Kovilaritch said there are no specific legal requirements for placing a straw poll on the ballot. The normal ordinance process takes a first reading and public hearing.

Floyd said there is a precedent for such a vote. In March 1999, voters approved a nonbinding referendum to tax themselves to buy Sunken Gardens. Kovilaritch said that straw poll was placed on the ballot by an emergency ordinance.

Floyd already has one supporter: City Council member Lisset Hanewicz, who along with Floyd had specific, pointed questions about the Rays deal and public subsidy Thursday at the first public meeting held on the deal.

“People should have a voice,” she said. “This deal involves a massive government subsidy and we are only beginning to understand the true cost. A public vote would force needed transparency and informed consideration.”

Council member Gina Driscoll doesn’t think a straw poll is necessary.

“In 1999, we were a much different city and today we have so many different ways that we can communicate with the public and receive communication with the public,” she said. “In 1999, many people still didn’t have email.”

Council member Copley Gerdes, a supporter of the deal on the table, agreed with Driscoll: 1999 was a really long time ago, and such a referendum hasn’t been done since.

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“My feeling in general is that we were elected to govern and making these decisions,” he said. “St. Pete was a very different place in 1999 than it is now.”

Council chairperson Brandi Gabbard, vice chairperson Deborah Figgs-Sanders and council members John Muhammad and Ed Montanari did not return requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Rays did not return a request for comment.