Ruth: Posturing St. Petersburg council members blind to economic opportunity at Trop

Published June 4, 2015

How to put this as gently and humanely as possible so as not to offend the very tender sensibilities of St. Petersburg City Council members Wengay Newton, Jim Kennedy, Bill Dudley and Steve Kornell.

Will you people please wake up?

Too subtle?

Because this arithmetic-challenged quartet of chaps can't seem to be able to count, they have put at risk the economic future of the city. Not one of them seems to grasp that one way or the other, the Tampa Bay Rays eventually will leave downtown St. Petersburg for a more profitable location.

The issue here is very simple. With long-standing attendance figures somewhere between a cow pie throwing tournament and an amateur cobra-handling contest, the Rays reached a memorandum of understanding with Mayor Rick Kriseman in December to allow them to look around for sites elsewhere in Pinellas County and Hillsborough County.

All that needed to occur was for the City Council to approve the agreement. That's it. The Rays aren't going anywhere anytime soon. And even if the team does choose an alternative locale, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg still needs to figure out a way to pay for a new stadium, which could run $500 million. Good luck with that.

Should the Rays leave St. Petersburg before their lease at Tropicana Field expires in 2027, the team would be obligated to pay the city millions of dollars in payments. The Rays also have agreed to forgo development rights on the 85-acre Tropicana Field site. That alone ought to have made the agreement a much easier lift for City Council — until Newton, Kennedy Dudley and Kornell started acting as if they were trying to preserve Monticello-on-the Bay.

You don't need to be the visionary urban planner Robert Moses, or even the huckstering developer Donald Trump, to figure out the long-term financial benefit to the city without the Rays occupying the Tropicana site. As council member Charlie Gerdes pointed out, simply in terms of construction costs in re-developing Tropicana Field the numbers range between $1 billion and $2 billion. And when you factor in the potential economic impact of office space, residential units and entertainment offerings on the site — jobs, churning commerce and a sizeable enhancement to the tax base, it remains curious why the entire City Council isn't holding a bon voyage party for the Rays. Au revoir. Ba-bye. See ya.

Instead Newton, Kennedy, Dudley and Kornell seem as if they are auditioning to have their own bobble-head doll night celebrating fiscal folly at Tropicana Field.

What the discussion over the future of the Rays needs is some mature understanding of what is in the economic interests of the city with respect to revisioning the Tropicana Field area, rather than myopic huffing and puffing on the part of four City Council members oblivious to the realities of a calculator.

Every day the St. Petersburg City Council delays the inevitable in allowing the Rays to look around for a new home is one less day in leveraging a final separation agreement and one more day lost in redeveloping the site and the financial benefits that would accrue to the city — all because of four posturing politicians who have become the Bill Buckners of common sense.