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St. Petersburg defers spending $1.2 million on Rays stadium consultant

City Council members said they needed to know more information about the agreement.
 
Inner Circle Sports has been working as the city and county’s negotiating consultant with the Rays since 2021. David Abrams is the city's point of contact at Inner Circle Sports.
Inner Circle Sports has been working as the city and county’s negotiating consultant with the Rays since 2021. David Abrams is the city's point of contact at Inner Circle Sports. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Nov. 30, 2023|Updated Dec. 1, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council was slated to approve another $1.5 million for lawyers and consultants on the Historic Gas Plant redevelopment and a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

But the council deferred a decision on the bulk of the money — $1.2 million for the St. Petersburg and Pinellas County’s consultant on the deal, Inner Circle Sports — so its members could get more information. They had questions about the creation of an entity that would oversee control and operations of the new stadium, including its design and construction.

The vote to defer passed 5-2, with council chairperson Brandi Gabbard and council member Copley Gerdes voting no. City Council member John Muhammad was absent Thursday.

The council majority wanted to know more about how the new third party would function.

City Council member Lisset Hanewicz said the city’s point of contact at Inner Circle, David Abrams, has worked on enough deals to explain how that company would operate. Part of Abrams’ job would be to analyze the new company’s cash flow model.

City attorney Jackie Kovilaritch said that Abrams wouldn’t have that information by the council’s Dec. 7 meeting.

Inner Circle Sports has been working as the city and county’s negotiating consultant with the Rays since 2021. City administrator Rob Gerdes said Abrams has been important to establishing relations and credited him with reaching broad terms of plans to build a new Rays stadium.

“There’s been some difficult moments, like there is in every negotiation, and he’s had some really good ideas to break the ice and move the ball and he’s important to us and our team,” Gerdes said.

City Council member Richie Floyd questioned Abrams’ role in the Miami Marlins deal that led to politicians there being recalled.

Some were also frustrated by the lack of information provided. Hanewicz said she has asked repeatedly for the net present value of the land surrounding the stadium. The Rays have offered to pay $105 million for the 65 acres that will be redeveloped as the Historic Gas Plant District.

“Here we are paying all this money, with all these experts that know exactly what the net present value is, and it hasn’t been given to me,” she said. “I have a problem paying for any of this when you’re not providing the information that I requested.”

Earlier on Thursday, the council approved another $300,000 for law firm Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath, which was retained by the city in February. Hanewicz asked why there was such a large increase.

“To have these documents if at all possible done in the spring, we need to move quickly,” Kovilaritch said.

Gerdes, the city administrator, said “optimism and excitement” are driving the time constraints. “We’re comfortable with the timeframe we’re working on and we think this investment is worth what we’re trying to do,” he said.

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Hanewicz disagreed and later voted no with Floyd, but the vote to give the firm additional money passed 5-2.

In a 6-1 vote, the council also approved spending $100,000 to retain law firm Bryant Miller Olive for finance matters. They will help the city issue debt for stadium construction on the behalf of the county, officials said. Hanewicz was the lone no vote.

St. Petersburg has spent a grand total of $756,725 over three years on pursuing a stadium deal, including the previous effort under former Mayor Rick Kriseman. Most of that money, $615,475, has been spent on the current process.