22 May 2008

Tampa Bay Rays Stadium Review Session

Wow, was that frustrating. Consider this: the Tampa Bay Rays are trying to do much the same thing the A's are doing except for the following:
  • Over half of the stadium will be publicly financed
  • The public part is largely dependent on valuations and revenue streams that are not even close to guaranteed
  • There are contributions from both St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, thus requiring approvals from both parties
  • The Rays are trying to cram the whole approval process into 6-8 months
  • There is a referendum in November
I have to say I appreciate the Rays' positioning of several public sources of revenue (sale of land and development rights, parking revenues) as not public. It's cagey and if the St. Petersburg City Council were born yesterday, they may have bought it. Instead, they're chock full of questions for city staff and team officials that alas, couldn't be answered.

The key part of the deal at this point is the shuffling of parking revenue from some 4,000 parking spaces in and around the downtown St. Pete area, within 3/4 mile of the ballpark site. Follow me on this. The Rays prepay a long-term lease on 2,000+ spaces downtown. The city takes that money and contributes that towards ballpark construction, around $35 million. There are also suggestions that a $1 parking fee be charged during games to create another $20 million for the project. Out of this discussion came concerns that there weren't enough spaces to handle this revenue model, and that the city would be liable if there were a parking revenue shortfall.

I don't understand why this thing is being rushed through like this. I'd like to give Rays' owner Stuart Sternberg the benefit of the doubt, but too often important details are missed when the process is rushed like this. Fremont and the A's are devoting the better part of two years to their project, this one merits a timeframe approaching that.

At least I got one thing out of the three-hour session, courtesy of councilmember Jeff Danner:
A lot of what I hear is "All you have to do is put out the referendum and let the people decide." But that's gonna be two questions, fifty words, and I've got a stack a foot high of what we're deciding. We're expected to do a lot more than that.
I've never heard a more effective argument against ballot box planning.