Four years ago, the Tampa Bay Rays presented a plan to play in a new ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City. The cost was only $892 million and the Rays demanded that local cities pay the majority of the cost. The plan went down the drain and team has continued playing at Tropicana Field. As some noted at the time, unlike many other owners of sports teams, the Rays owner, Stu Sternberg, likely doesn’t have the financial bank account to outright fund a new ballpark by himself. So, he really, really needs city/state money to fund any new ballpark that he builds. When he does get a new ballpark, he will likely get a significant amount of financial backing from local cities/state. This means the public will go crazy, local leaders will play stupid, and then the deal will be signed.
Thus, it is important to keep details of any new sports home as quiet as possible until the last second so that the public can’t do anything due to the lack of time left before an agreement is completed. Many, if not most sports teams, want their negotiations to be as secret as possible. We have seen that many times, including most recently in Calgary
But several months ago, the mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida (where the Tampa Bay Rays current ballpark is located) announced plans to redevelop Tropicana Field. The winner came from a joint bid, which included the Tampa Bay Rays. This meant that after two and a half years, there was finally something being done on this piece of public land. The consultants hired by the mayor preferred a bid that didn’t include the Rays, but let’s save that for another day. Instead, the mayor noted that the bid with the Rays was best for the area because the Rays would be the “best partner” for the city and that this bid brought the most “community benefits” offered by bidders. Among the three phases of development, the Rays new ballpark would be built in the first phase and be ready for the 2028 baseball season. Then comes construction for affordable housing, office spaces, retail lots and other things over the last two phases. According to the winning bidders, the overall development will have a “$1.4 billion economic impact”. I can’t wait for that claim to be laughed at years from now. Remember that right now, with the Rays in Tropicana Field, the city of St. Petersburg brings in $73 million in tourist taxes.
Fast-forward months later to today, and we haven’t heard anything from anyone. How is our so-called city partner doing with negotiations? According to the Tampa Bay Times, everyone involved in the project is talking and meeting often. They are just intentionally preventing any way for the public to see what is being discussed by making few if anything available for public records. What little information we do have paints an incredibly calculated way of keeping the public out of the negotiations for as long as possible. First, the winning bidders and other hired consultants are meeting with city council members individually so that they can get around Sunshine Law rules and therefore keep everything quiet.
As one city council member stated publicly, “They asked us not to share the conversations”. Another city council member said with a straight face that the size of this project was so big and complex. Therefore, if they told the public information about it and “someone doesn’t know the whole story, they might arrive at a conclusion that is simply not accurate”. We wouldn’t want that now, would we?
Here is the one and only email conversation that we do know about:
- “Is a legal document not attorney client privileged?”
- “One method of keeping this out of the public domain until we are done is having external counsel work on it and making it privileged.”
The Tampa Bay Times does a good job of noting that this email, some text messages and information about meetings being put on the calendar is EVERYTHING we have since the original announcement was made months ago. So even though this is public land and the parties will be receiving significant taxpayer support, the city of St. Petersburg is denying all interview requests or interviews in general. A big reason for the secrecy is likely due to the hope that the deal can be done as quickly as possible. Out of nowhere several weeks ago, the Rays owner stated that if a deal wasn’t done by the end of 2023, then there would be no deal at all.
Keep in mind that last year, this owner did come up with the single worst idea ever thought about in human sports history. He proposed an idea to split home games between Montreal and Tampa Bay. So instead of trying to get one new ballpark, he would get….two? That is, when he isn’t being sued by former/current minority owners of his own team.