Timeline of Rays stadium deal point of contention at Thursday’s meeting

The plan to build a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays and develop the land around the stadium took a big step forward Thursday night.

St. Petersburg leaders gave their approval to certain items related to the deal in the City Council's first round of votes. 

The 5-3 votes were related to the $6 billion cost of the project, along with rezoning land in the Historic Gas Plant District to allow for mixed-use development around the ballpark. The votes were on the first readings of the items, though, meaning no final decisions just yet.

St. Pete City Council members okayed setting public hearings on the items for July 11. That's also the day the Rays hope to have council's first approval on the deal. The timeline of the deal was a point of contention at Thursday's meeting. 

PREVIOUS: Group calls Rays stadium deal 'horrible,' prompting response from St. Pete mayor

Council members also approved the first reading of increasing the amount of money they're paying attorneys to negotiate the deal from $950,000 to $1.5 million. 

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Courtesy: Populous

"It’s clear the attorneys are putting a ton of time into this, but my concern from the get-go was the speed for which this is going and to me, when I look at the bills and how they’re increasing, it’s because we’re having attorneys work around the clock and this is being pushed as fast as possible," Council Member Lisset Hanewicz said.

Additionally, City Council approved the first reading of extending the tax district that keeps property taxes downtown through 2042, meaning more money to pay for the project. 

St. Pete City Council met Thursday to discuss the Rays stadium proposal.

As it stands now, the 30,000-seat domed stadium by itself comes with a $1.3 billion price tag. Pinellas County would pay about $312.5 million from its tourist development tax revenue, while the city would contribute $287.5 million. The Rays would be on the hook for the rest of the ballpark, along with costs to maintain and operate the stadium once it opens.

MORE: Tampa Bay Rays offer glimpse into proposed ballpark with newly updated renderings

Critics of the project argue public money should be spent on other priorities instead of a private project. 

"I think it’s wrong to be extending that and locking that wealth away when there are other needs in our neighborhoods and community," William Kilgore with the St. Petersburg Tenants Union said.

Several community groups protested the deal outside City Hall before the meeting.

"The city has critical needs for professional development opportunities," Dan Huber with the Sierra Club, said. "All of that should be realized in this generational project. The generational project should have benefits for generations and not only for generations going into the future, but for the generations that experience inequity because of the way that this whole project came about historically," he said.

The Gas Plant District is a historic Black neighborhood that was demolished to build Tropicana Field and nearby highways. At the time, families who were displaced and promised jobs and new homes, but those promises weren't kept. 

READ: St. Pete community weighs in on multi-billion dollar Gas Plant redevelopment plans

Opponents of the deal also say they’re concerned the 600 planned units of workforce-affordable housing won't be affordable and may price out people who are already struggling to keep up with housing costs.

"I’d love for the Rays to stay," Nick Carey, a St. Pete resident against the deal, said. "I’d also love a yacht," he said. "The Rays don’t make St. Pete special. We do. They can afford to stay and many of us can’t," Carey said.

Another issue has been the timeline for potentially finalizing the deal, which critics say has moved too quickly

"I urge you to wait," one St. Pete resident against the deal said. "This feels like a train coming out of the station and I think all of us don’t know how to stop it," she said.

Supporters of the project disagree and said they don't think the deal is moving too fast. 

"We have been talking about this for a very long time," said St. Pete resident Susan McGrath during Thursday's meeting. "Way before this administration, all during the last administration and probably the one before that. So use your good guidance and get it done."

"We’re here to ask you to keep moving forward," Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday. "While we applaud this as about baseball and the Rays, we feel this is more about that neighborhood and the stadium that’s going to attract those people that are going to continue to work and live here," he said.

St. Pete resident Kenneth Mack grew up in the Gas Plant District. He said he's in favor of the deal. 

"It’s never going to be 100 percent, as one has said. I do believe we need to move forward," Mack said. "I do believe we have a deal that is workable not perfect, but I do believe it is the best thing to do."

"This is indeed I believe a good representation for those of us who are descendants [of the Gas Plant District] and we are going to get value from this deal," Mack said.

Several city council members expressed concerns over the timeline of the deal and how fast it is moving, especially, they said, because they don’t have the deals’ final documents yet. 

Thursday’s meeting came a day after a Committee of the Whole Meeting about the project Wednesday where the Rays and the city’s project team fielded questions from the council members for nearly six hours.

"We are making decisions based on drafts," Hanewicz said. "I have problems with the deal. I have problems with the fact that we are going as fast as we are going on this," she said.

"We’re setting these public hearing dates and there’s no guarantee that the documents will be ready and they’re still not ready," Council Member Richie Floyd said. "Personally, I’m uncomfortable with that," he said.

Other council members echoed the need for final documents before they can make major decisions. 

City Administrator Rob Gerdes said the goal is to have the final documents in hand two weeks prior to July 11, when leaders hope to take their final vote. If the final documents aren't ready two weeks before July 11, that vote will get pushed back to July 18. 

Gerdes said the July 11 timeline is important to get Hines Development Group started in the permitting process to raise equity for development of the first phase of the project. It’s also important, he said, because it will give them an earlier start on an affordable housing application for potentially $25 million on the project. 

There are other moving parts, as well, including another workshop set for July 9. The county and Major League Baseball must also sign off on the deal before it becomes official.

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