Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Reading the Rays Press Conference

I dropped by for the City of St. Pete/Rays press conference Tuesday. Since I’m more of a commentator than a reporter, I was there to listen and watch the body language.

It was an interesting event. Mayor Kriseman was in control. He was not defensive, he had the answers and he has a couple of options already in the works. If the Rays stay the Trop property gets redeveloped. If the Rays go, the stadium comes down and the whole plot gets redeveloped. The City's direction seems clear.

A number of people seem to think the City is giving up the farm and the Mayor has some explaining to do.

It turns out the Mayor is not giving up the farm. Not by a long shot. The deal simply says go ahead and talk to Hillsborough County and Tampa and here’s what it will cost if you decide to play there instead of here before 2027. Go outside the local area and the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is null.

The MOU clears the deck for the Rays to go explore and allows them to do some serious number crunching if they do strike a deal across the bridge.

However the most interesting thing the Mayor said was he thought that after all of the looking the Rays will end up right here in St. Pete.

Why? Because getting a stadium deal at a manageable cost with reasonable financing and public funding is going to be a big problem in Tampa. Most of the downtown Tampa land proposed for a new stadium is gradually getting gobbled up by more profitable development.

Baseball stadiums are a bad deal. The take up a lot of land, they are expensive and the prime occupant tends to be a bitchy, whiny tenant. There are a lot better ways for developers to invest their money and a lot of local governments are starting to think the same way.

There is still the question: does Major League Baseball think the Tampa Bay market is really a baseball market? That question should be publicly answered before any private investor or local government puts another dime into baseball. Rays President Brian Auld deftly dodged the question during the press conference.

Now that the restrictions on the Rays are somewhat lifted, they can get down to serious negotiations. What happens if things don’t work out in Tampa or Hillsborough County?

Kriseman makes a powerful argument for the Rays staying right where they are.

Access is already in place and the property exists in St. Pete. All of that plus a lot more will need to be pulled together in Hillsborough County and it will take a lot of money.

Kriseman has handed the ball to the Rays and essentially said go pitch a few innings and see how it goes.

The Mayor and his team deserve a lot of credit for resetting the stage and getting things moving. City Council may want a few tweaks but this is a good plan.

Proceeding with redevelopment plans while the Rays shop around the area keeps St. Pete in the game and moving forward. Some preliminary redevelopment of the current Trop foot print should be the next step by the City.

Looking for more to read about the Rays:

Tampa Tribune, Christopher O'Donnell: St. Pete reaches deal to let Rays out of contract for cash 

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