St. Pete Election could decide Rays Future
On this National election Day, there are citizens all around the country voting to retain or replace local politicians in their city governments. Some are voting for Council members, minor and major elected city officials and maybe even for the high office of Mayor. But in St. Petersburg, Florida, the vote for your mayor candidate might send a clear and concise message to the Tampa Bay Rays on what the teams future might be in the city or somewhere else.
Both of the cities Mayor candidates have been loud and proud in their support or bashing of the Rays proposal to construct a new retractable roof stadium within the city limits. And it is a decision that has alienated some community leaders from their citizens,or even renewed a hope of a change in government. The voting decision today by the city populus might be a clear indicator of if the Rays dream of a new stadium is going to be a folly or a future shing star in the Tampa Bay area.
Also at stake is the timing of any future plans at all. Consider if the city does join forces with the Rays and campaign for a new stadium as soon as 2012. If the city and the team tries to fund it and build it too quickly, without total support, you will see the city sacrifice city taxes and proposed revenues by looking at it in tunnel vision. But there is a far worst scenario that might come from waiting too long to make a initial decison on the project and watch the moving vans stroll up to the Trop and wave goodbye to baseball in Tampa Bay for good.
The A Better Community (ABC) group, which has been commissioned to research all the nooks and crannies of the Tampa Bay area for the right location and situation for the proposed stadium has not even made a final conclusion in the stadium process. And that might be a intelligent political move for them to wait and see what kind of political obstacles might fall in their way before revealing their final reccomendations to the public.
But you can bet the group is closely watching the St. Pete election with a keen eye on what might happen or needs to happen in the next few years concerning the stadium issue. And the candidate have laid it all out in black and white to the public on this issue, and there has been no pandering to either side. But their firm words are just that right now until they are elected to the office and will have to comment again on the issue.
You have one candidate Kathleen Ford, who has been a huge voice that the Rays are committed by contract to staying at Tropicana Field until 2027, and is not about to give them any freedom or deviations from their present deal in the near future. Ford has campaigned hard on the issues of the city’s economy and putting more police officiers on the street and decreasing taxes than thinking about baseball right now. And that might be the platform that makes her viable to the citizens of the city.
But Ford also knows that the city of St. Petersburg has a trump card in this stadium deal, and she is holding it close to her vest right now. If the Rays cry poverty, then the city could instruct the team to open their teams financial books, and MLB and baseball in general has been hesistant in the past to let outsiders see such things as revenue sharing and other inner workings of their system.
And Ford might use the possibility of financial damages as her remedy to the situation. The current contract between the Rays and the city stipulates that all bond monies (currently about $ 80 million) must be paid off. And in this point alone,Ford might have the power of the judicial system in her court. So, could Ford become a major stadium hinderence to the Rays if she is elected or just a road block?
Then you have the other candidate, Bill Foster who has flip floped at least once on the issue, but that concerned the building of the stadium on the St. Petersburg waterfront, and not the proposed sites on the outer stretches of the city’s limits. Foster realistically sees both sides of the equation now,and has vowed to work with the Rays organization to get the right decision for both the citizens of his town and the Rays in this issue.
Foster is the candidate who truly envisions the concrete hitting the soil as early as 2016 when the financing of the current bonds surrounding the Tropicana Field lease are set to expire. And he is also throwing the idea out of maybe even expanding the concept to include a convention center on the property picked to make it more attractive to city residents and voters if a referendum is needed to get the funding. But does he have the charm and finesse needed to get them reinstituted and the Rays on the way to fulfilling the dream?
And both candidates have been adamant about a court battle if the Rays try and take the team away before 2027, but we all know that professional teams can win court battles and even iron clad lawsuits by twisting the system with monetary solutions,or by just winning outright in their case. And that is one of the strong armed tactics we could expect if Ford is elected to the office. Foster might use it as a directional tool, but not as a strong point to twist the issue ot negotiations with the Rays.
Depending on where your personal logic lies, the Rays will be making decisions behind their closed doors that are not privy to the Florida Sunshine Laws to either boost or defend their current plans to acquire the head nod of city officials about a stadium. And the Rays are not going to immediately head for the hills and be on speed dial with Portland,San Antonio, Las Vegas or even Charlotte if the wrong person is elected, or shows a strong will even to speak about the issue. But you know they have a back-up plan. This is a business, not just a baseball sports franchise, and a wise man always has a secondary solution up their sleeves.
But this is going to be a critical decision by the citizens of St. Petersburg on how their baseball future will be visualized. The region has emerged as a Major League city, if the city government balks at the building or any considerations of a stadium, the city could lose. And if that happens,will the citizens of St. Petersburg, Florida want to again become a Minor League city?
the decision making by the next St. Pete mayor, either Foster or Ford be the deciding factor in if the Rays are doing a ribbon cutting or preparing for a court battle in the future? After they are elected we might get a good indicator of their thoughts when the ABC releases their recommendations on the stadium parameters such as location and structure. The first order uttered on this issue by the new Mayor might send the clear message to baseball lovers in the community.
So the issue of baseball might be considered front and center in this election, but it has a huge dose of hard core realization attached to both Mayor candidates. One has been vocal about playing hardball and tying the team up to their total commitments. The other has been wise enough to consider alternatives and will keep an open mind into the baseball situation until all the cards are presented to him and the St. Petersburg City Council.
When the Waterfront proposed stadium plans were pulled back off the table by the Rays earlier this year it was seen as a victory by some small political groups (POWW) around the community. They saw the pulling of the proposed plans as a major coup at the time. But who is to say that it was not STRIKE ONE by the St. Petersburg politicans, and the Rays will ultimately be the ones who determine when the community strikes out,or hits one out of the park and into the bay.