Hillborough County commissioner Ken Hagan did this week what many of us had been hoping somebody would do for a while. He stirred the Rays stadium pot.

At a recent budget workshop, Hagan asked if tax increment financing could be used to help defray some of the costs of a new baseball stadium in Hillsborough County.

In short, in order to build a stadium, a neighborhood would need to be renovated (streets, sewer lines, etc.) and since tax increment financing is already ear-marked for these type of needs, it could be used to pay for the infrastructure needs of a neighborhood should a baseball stadium be built.

Of course, all this really did, was get Mayor Bill Foster to start tossing around his typical negative rhetoric…

“They will talk about how much they respect St. Petersburg and how they won’t interfere, but they still talk about it,” Foster said. “The only parties that need to be talking about this are the city of St. Petersburg and the Rays.”

To which we ask: Then why aren’t the Rays and St. Pete talking?

Mayor Foster also told Richard Danielson

of the St. Pete Times,the Rays aren’t going to Tampa or Hillsborough County,” which sounds eerily like a conversation with a two-year old. Have you ever tried to reason with a two-year old?

Parent: Sweetheart, let’s put your shoes on.
Child: NO!
Parent: Don’t you want to go out and play?
Child: NO!
Parent: Can dadda help?
Child: NO!
Parent: What do you want to do?
Child: NO!

But Foster’s naive stance was just warming up. He went on to add that if people in Hillsborough want to save the Rays, all they need to do is drive across the bridges, because gee, why didn’t anybody else think of that?

“Every time it comes up in Hillsborough County, I kind of chuckle, and I believe their heart is in the right place, and they sincerely want to keep this team in the region…I just believe that their focus is in the wrong place. … If anybody in Hillsborough County wants to keep the Rays in the region, then they need to drive over here and support the team in St. Petersburg.”

Translation: I don’t care if you don’t like Stroganoff. Tough shit. It’s all we got. So either eat up or go hungry.

John Romano writes what we are all thinking:

“It will not end well for St. Petersburg.”

Which is exactly something we have been thinking about a lot recently. Clearly this looks bad for the city of St. Pete. At some point they are probably going to lose the Rays. Whether the team moves to Tampa or someplace else, it seems like a longshot that they will stay in Pinellas county.

So we can understand Mayor Foster’s strong stance. He has a valuable asset that he may lose, without getting anything in return.

If and when the Rays move to Tampa, the city of St. Pete will become an afterthought. Sure, people from St. Pete will still go to Rays games. But let’s not kid ourselves. The Rays will be Tampa’s team.

But, does St. Pete have to be left empty-handed? Is there something the Rays or the city of Tampa, or Major League Baseball, or the State of Florida can offer the city of St. Pete as a parting gift? Is there something that could ease the pain?

We don’t know the answer. But maybe we need to stop talking about the Rays as if moving to Tampa is a foregone conclusion and how Mayor Foster and the City of St. Pete just need to “suck it up.” And maybe we need to think about what they can get out of this besides an empty Tropicana Field.

Romano, like many others, thinks that writing a big fat check is the answer. And Maybe it is. But is there is a bigger (and better) answer? A new museum? A beautiful soccer facility for the Rowdies FC Tampa Bay? Some sort of tourist attraction that will consistently bring people (and money) into the city of St. Pete.

What about the promise of 9-12 Rays games a year? It’s better than none. What if the Rays promise to move their triple-A affiliate to the Al Lang Field land along with a new beautiful minor league ballpark on the waterfront that won’t piss off the locals?

Of course, none of this happens if nobody is talking. And right now, Ken Hagan is the only person who is looking for a solution to a problem everybody else seems to be ignoring.

In the end, we just wish these people would spend a little more time talking to each other and little less time bitching to the media.

We’ve been saying for a while now that this situation would get worse before it gets better. But now, this entire mess is starting to look like it will get even worse than we ever imagined.

And for the first time, we are starting to worry that this team’s next home will be in San Antonio.

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25 Comments

  1. Don says:

    Hillsb. Co. commission + Mayor Bill Foster + Stuie Stern...
    Would you Like these three to be in charge of making business decisions for you....I wouldn't... sure Stuie made money in the stock market buying and selling Co stock....
    Has he ever run a business (retail)...or has any of the other people involved?
    Looks More and more like headed for disaster! Vince n. where are you ....you belong in this group....

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  2. I think the economic situation in the Bay Area has definitely changed the rules of the game when it comes to stadium negotiations. In the past, the hard line stance would work on both sides until someone gave in (usually the city).

    Unfortunately, Mayor Bill Foster doesn't have the luxury of blinking because a tax-payer financed stadium won't go over too well in the current economic environment. Conversely, the current economic environment also works against Stu. Hillsborough & Tampa politicos can talk all they want, but I'm not sure they can work a sweetheart deal like RJS right now.

    So that's where we stand in this Mexican standoff. I'm not sure how this is going to work out... except that some of the players are going to have to start thinking out of the box before someone in another community (Charlotte/Vegas) reels in a big, big RAY

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  3. Justin says:

    Not sure why we're painting Foster as the bad guy here. There's a contract, and he wants it honored. Legally, he's in the right.

    And why do we continue to tolerate Sternberg's BS? Look, if the guy believe that baseball in Tampa IS viable, he can get investors and build a stadium himself. Instead he'd rather put the financial risk on the taxpayers of H county. This is telling. Show me the money, Stu.

    Look if we got some of the profits from the Rays, and I mean direct profits, then sure, do it. But we don't. In Stu's mind we should pay their salaries AND their up front property fees.

    As much as I love the Rays, and as much as it would be easier to go to games in Tampa, I feel like Bay area residents are being asked for too much. This is a company, like any other. They should pay their own bills, and THEN we'll buy some tickets.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      First of all, we have been just as critical of Sternberg's comments in the past. Maybe more so.

      And like I said above, I completely understand Foster's position, I just don't think the rhetoric is helping. Quite the opposite actually. And ignoring the problem isn't going to make it go away.

      Rather than constantly telling everybody what the Rays *Can't* do, why not discuss what they can do. For example, is there really harm in letting the Rays talk to Tampa? St. Pete still has the contract, so the Rays can't go without permission.

      But if dialogue happens in Tampa, we might get progress and an option. And whose to say the Rays can't give the city of St Pete an opportunity to match the offer?

      Anyway, i understand Mayor Foster's stance, and to certain extent I agree with him. I just don't think he is handling this the correct way.

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      • Justin says:

        Reply fail--see below.

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      • Joe says:

        Problem is Cork, and I could be wrong here, is if they were allowed to talk to Tampa, they inherently would be allowed to talk to anyone else. Just like anything else, it could/should be subject to "negotiation".

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  4. Jordi says:

    Love the idea of a deal. How about St. Pete gets the Tampa Yankees, the Rays triple-A team, Minor League Baseball Museum, and three Rays homestands to include a Rays vs Yankees series?

    So basically Tampa gets an old costly veteran under a long contract and St. Pete gets a basketful of prospects.

    Sounds like a Rays type of deal.

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  5. Justin says:

    Cork, I understand where you are coming from, and my comment was not a criticism of you. Rather it was to pick a fight with those who think Stu can do no wrong, and are willing to support him no matter his demands.

    There seems to be a contingent of Rays fans who would rather let Sternberg garnish their wages, than see him front the money for his own money making ventures.

    Foster is who he is, and legally he is probably taking the right stance--act as if the contract has no flex.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      I agree. When negotiating it is better to start at the extremes and then move. Im just worried that Foster has dug his heals in too deep.

      And no worries. I didn't think it was criticism. I was really just clarifying my stance for everybody. This post is fairly anti-Foster. But in reality, we think both sides deserve blame.

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    • Beth says:

      I think also the way I read Cork's post (and Romano's column this morning) is this: we can argue about the moral high ground and about enforcing a contract. Or we can figure out how to have a viable MLB team in our region. It's time for the grown ups to take control of the conversation.

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  6. Michael says:

    St. Pete is going to go down with the ship.

    They would rather have the Rays go bankrupt and sold off to another market than to have them move to Tampa.

    I don't understand the mayors point of view.

    The facts are laid bare.

    1) The Trop is among the most outdated facilities in the major professional sports.

    2) St. Petersburg, at best, offers no strategic advantage for the Rays organization in terms of driving attendance.

    3) The Rays have apparently tried and failed to get a stadium built elsewhere in St. Pete.

    So his plan is to lawyer up and let the franchise stagnate and die? How brilliant. Does the mayor own stock in Ferg's or something?

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  7. Super V says:

    Is Tampa truly a candidate to fund another stadium? Where is the money going to come from? There's a point where a 30% tax on renting a car at TIA or a room in Hillsborough might be a little irritating to non-baseball watching visitors. I almost wish Foster would let Tampa and the Rays talk to crystalize the fact that people on the other side of the Bay aren't willing to pay for a stadium either.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      I think most people agree that any new stadium would require financing from the private sector. But the tax discussed above would help lower the cost without raising taxes (the tax already exists)

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  8. Martin B says:

    Cork,

    You're just wrong. Texas has one of the worst public debt problems in the united states. It's ridiculous to think that they'd fund a stadium to move the Rays.

    The fact of the matter is, the Rays aren't going anywhere until this lease is up. And nor should they. They signed a deal with this city, and they should honor it, or the city should take the money they would have made from the Rays playing baseball in St. Pete out of them in court.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      You're assuming a stadium has to be for by public money. That's not happening anywhere. It's going to take private money in Florida and it would take private money in Texas.

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  9. Sublime says:

    This talk of, "they should honor the deal", How naive are the people making these comments? This is the reason why more than 1/2 of American-Based Fortune 500 companies have the headquarters in Switzerland. Honoring a deal and business don't really go hand in hand, but maximizing a profit at your expense does.

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  10. Carey says:

    "If and when the Rays move to Tampa, the city of St. Pete will become an afterthought. Sure, people from St. Pete will still go to Rays games. But let’s not kid ourselves. The Rays will be Tampa’s team."

    I hate to break this to the kind folks of St. Pete (of which I am one), but all you have to do is go 50 miles outside of the area and you're already an afterthought. That's the problem here. St. Pete behaves like a jealous 5 year old. Meanwhile, it's all Tampa to everyone else. St. Pete needs to realize that, basically, it is a suburb of Tampa. And there's nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with being a nice place to live with low crime, low taxes a nice downtown, beaches, etc. If Tampa wants to carry the water for the region, let them.

    I swear, Foster would rather see this team move to Charlotte than Tampa and that's really, really sad.

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  11. Joe says:

    This is absolutely scary. I do understand both sides of the argument, but consider this. Mayor Foster is holding the cards. That use agreement is the only item that is keeping the Rays in St. Petersburg, let alone Tampa Bay. Need I remind anyone that Stu's own comments that there were "five better cities" than Tampa Bay that don't have baseball are indeed comments he said. Does he really feel that way, that is a question I want to know.

    As far as the media's role here, I will say its rather unfortunate. Most of the print, radio and television media's role has been mostly pro ownership. What bothers me the most is all of the pot shots that come in nationally and even to a degree internally by Rays sources that are negative and derogatory about Tampa Bay and fans of the area. It hurts the area's credibility and prestige and is something worth fighting for. The negative perception of Tampa Bay fans and pro sports in the area is just brow beating and destroys the valuable marginal fans and stunts the building of the fan base.

    Call me cynical and jaded, but Stu knew what the risks were when he bought the club. He may not have done his homework thoroughly on the political process of the area, and may have thought he could have greased his palms through it.

    It is obvious that this game of blinking is not going to yield any results. It's time to go to court, let's go to a judge and let's find a dollar amount that will make St. Petersburg go away. However, what happens if Pinellas and St. Petersburg in the next 12-18 months makes another proposal? That is a heckuva what if, but are the Rays down the road worried that there will be a last, best offer? I have long thought that in order for Stu to get positive attention and public opinion on his side, he should get a last best offer on the table and then if he is told it won't work, then the lease can be broken. It may take another 1-2 years, but there should be a "best" Pinellas proposal worked on jointly by the Rays and St. Pete/Pinellas.

    However, this is doomed for litigation. I don't believe when the Rays play in their new ballpark, Stu Sternberg will be the owner of the club. Although he has good business sense, I truly do not believe he understands the pyschology of good fans that he has built. I personally believe he signaled the white flag and retreat by cutting payroll by nearly 40% after last season, he looks very, very whiny. How can you or I as fans take his side? The lack of regard about the fans, the lack of defense of the area, the road uniforms.....It won't end well. Let's move forward on this, or better yet, Stu SELL, and if you don't, be willing the spend, pay the price, accept the fact that it will take time to grow the fan base. Don't stunt it!

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  12. Joe says:

    Another thing, its been said before, why is Mayor Bill Foster being vilified so much, not so much here, but in other places, for simply doing a job he was sworn to do? He is not the Mayor of Tampa Bay, he is the Mayor of St. Petersburg. He has a job and a role to protect his constituents and perhaps the city's biggest asset. I know it can't be understated enough, but if I had that role, I would be happy to know I had a Mayor of my city that is doing precisely what Bill is doing.

    If his heels are in too deep, then I would rather err in that direction than not enough. Again, I undestand the point, but if Stu feels the way he does, get your lawyers, go to court and let's get a number. And if not, then let's get a best Gateway proposal on the table (ahem, St. Pete/Pinellas), let's get a cost estimate and see if Stu really likes Pinellas. Again, is Stu worried that Pinellas if their backs were on the wall, may come up with a solid proposal?

    It's so rudimentary, but that use agreement is the only instrument that ties the Rays down to Tampa Bay. And I appreciate the fact that you got someone who is willing to go to the extreme to protect and defend it. I certainly wish Stu Sternberg was willing to protect and defend the fans of the team, but I don't get that sense.

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    • Sarah says:

      Joe, you make some good points, but much of what you write nicely highlights what is wrong with Foster's take on this issue, and with why our entire region is destined become (or perhaps remain) an economic and cultural backwater (albeit with nice weather!).

      As you note, Bill Foster's job is to represent the interests of St. Petersburg. And if every elected official continues to construe his or her role in the very narrow, dog-eat-dog terms that Foster has adopted, then we can look forward to never having a mass transit system, never attracting decent paying jobs, and ultimately not having a major league baseball team. Regions have to work together, and real leaders in municipal government need to actually LEAD their constituents by pointing them in that direction.

      Foster could approach this quite differently and STILL be seen as an effective leader looking after his city's best interests.

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      • Joe says:

        And I don't think he is doing that bad of a job. Again, some of these issues are deeper than a city, we got not regional or statewide authority or planning board that can handle intercounty affairs. It goes to the state level. If the city charter or constitution or county commission charters had more sweeping powers and authority, then I would be on board with it.

        I am not trying to be narrow from a personal perspective. If Foster fails, then where is the parachute? Stu is sure not going to offer Pinellas and St. Pete one, which is why I am angrier than heck why he chastizes and brutalizes (perhaps too strong) the fans and has national writers AND LOCAL MEMBERS blast the fanbase to smithereens.

        That is where lawyers come in I suppose, right, Sarah? :) If the lease/use agreement had a Hillsborough "chicken clause", then this would be a slam dunk, wouldn't it? You got make the other side whole and complete in the process, and we all know this.

        I agree twenty fold the team can and should be marketed better. It isn't and some of that could be self-defeating. That is circumstantial. But it doesn't make it right either.

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  13. Joe says:

    My thing, is constitutionally or charter-wise, I am not sure how "grandiose" Bill Foster is allowed to think. In private, he may very well agree with what you or I think, but he simply isn't allowed to take that position. He already opened up himself for Gateway-Carillon which is outside of incorporated St. Petersburg.

    I am NOT trying to be a killjoy, but what can Foster do without getting into trouble or being summoned by City Attorney or City Council and being asked what the heck is he doing? The answers lie in the charters at the county and city level.

    This is where Stu could be a lot better of a player in this. Does he know the political process? Does he understand the difficulties of what he is facing? Perhaps, but the game of flinching has to end. Put your cards down, file a suit and see if you can mediate a breaking number. If you can't, either deal with it, accept it or sell. You can also come back and revisit it in another 4-5 years when penalty clauses or more palatable. Maybe none of this happens, but Stu's comments and his lack of faith are the most troublesome to me. How much does Stu Sternberg LOVE Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, etc.? He himself knows the television numbers, and negotiated a questionable television contract.

    If the other side can't "legally" give, then what "legal" bounds does he have, besides the almighty dollar bill? Easier said than done, but again, I question and debate Stu's full and complicit understanding of siuation when he has Silverman and Kalt doing the business end of it when if it is something HE wants, HE needs to be front man, no lieutenants.

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  14. Amanda says:

    Something just dawned on me, especially if we revisit the proposed "sailboat" staidum the Rays brought out a few years ago. Right here in Concord, N.C., is the Charlotte Motor Speedway. It's inches over the border into Cabarrus County from Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte. There's also a dirt track at this complex, and the speedway hosts three major NASCAR events during the year, not to mention smaller races throughout the summer. Most of the teams have garages here. On the same exit about two miles away from the track is Concord Mills, (unfortuantely) the most popular tourist attraction in the state.

    A few years ago, Bruton Smith, the owner of the speedway (and several others around the country), proposed to build a drag strip on his land at the speedway complex. It was to be the most impressive drag stip in the world, with four lanes of track.

    However several nearby residents complained to the City Council. They said the noise would be a bother. (Yes, these are the same kinds of people who buy a house near the airport and then complain about the airplane noise.) So instead of considering what the impact of having another destination sports complex in a medium-sized city, bringing more jobs and more tourist dollars to the city, the county and the region, what did they do? They listened to the vocal minority and voted unanimously to turn down the request.

    Smith didn't start making overatures. He said flat-out that he was moving Charlotte (then Lowe's) Motor Speedway out of Concord. His years of living in Concord, paying personal and a butt-load of business taxes, his years of charitable giving in the community, the heart of racing, a county that was home to Dale Earnhardt, it's no wonder he felt dissed in a major way. (And don't think this guy couldn't do this ... he could fling out some money on a patch of vacant land and a speedway would sprout overnight.)

    Long story short, Concord realized what they had done, and bent over backwards to get him to stay. They gave him permission to build the drag strip. They gave him tax breaks. They even renamed Speedway Boulevard to Bruton Smith Boulevard. Concord (eventually) got it.

    St. Pete didn't, and hasn't yet.

    The main fight about the new baseball stadium wasn't public tax dollars. It was several vocal and rich residents were upset that their pristine view was going to be disruppted. They didn't think about how it would affect the rest of the community. I'm sorry, the Rays weren't going to build Section 8 housing or a drab skycraper to block their view. It was a beautiful stadium; it wasn't like they were picking up the Trop and dropping it in front of them.

    Now Foster is making waves by saying if they don't stay in St. Pete, they damn sure won't be in Tampa. IS IT ANY WONER WHY THE PEOPLE OF TAMPA DON'T WANT TO TRAVEL TO ST. PETE? Maybe it's not the distance, the rush-hour traffic, the cost, or the gas. Maybe it's they're not welcome.

    The Bay area proved around 2002-2004 that they can fill a hockey and a football stadium to capacity at the same time when the ecomony's booming and the teams are putting a competative product on the field.

    And maybe water is a great divide because of the frosty chill you feel once you travel over the bridge. And keep putting down your fans, your lifeblood. That's a really great strategy.

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    • Justin says:

      Amanda,

      Tampa currently cannot fill stadiums. Bucs were blacked out. I went to Lightning games in the playoff hunt that were half full.

      There's a lot of good research on how sports teams do NOT help employment in the area around the stadium, do not provide more jobs, etc.

      Sports teams help an area through marketing, but do not add more jobs over all.

      You seem to want to bend over backward for Stu. That's a terrible idea.

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      • Amanda says:

        No, I actually don't like him. I don't like the way he trashes fans and potential fans.

        I know it's not a one-to-one ratio, and I know building a stadium does not guarantee an economic impact. But having a team is pratically free advertising for a city. When any of our games (Bucs, Lightning, Rays, and even the Grand Prix) are on national TV, those wide, Chamber-of-Commerce shots are instant advertising. I feel it every time I see it, and how much I love the Tampa area.

        What I'm saying is that it's not very smart to not work in harmony with sports franchises. But I'm also not saying to drop at the sports franchises' feet either. Go look at all the stories and commentaires about Tom McEwen this past week. He understood ... he knew what it meant to have sports teams in a community. But with Foster's attitude of St. Pete or bust, if I was a Tampa resident, why would I want to step foot in his city?

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