St. Pete leaders discussing plans for Rays stadium, Historic Gas Plant District ahead of key votes

The future of the new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays takes center stage this week, in back-to-back meetings where leaders in St. Petersburg discuss the proposed development of the Historic Gas Plant District.

Wednesday, St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch and St. Pete City Council members joined representatives from the Rays for the third Committee of the Whole meeting on the topic. Wednesday’s meeting focused solely on the new baseball stadium. They went over agreements that would enforce how a new baseball stadium would be built, paid for and operated.

The new stadium operating agreement between the Rays, the City of St. Pete and Pinellas County provides conditions for the ongoing operations of the new stadium over the next 30 years with two five-year renewals. 

PREVIOUS: St. Pete council feels ‘pressure’ on tight timeline, not enough meetings planned on Rays stadium agreement

The Rays and the city’s project team were on the hot seat for close to six hours Wednesday as they answered questions from council members about the project after giving a presentation. 

The team recently released new renderings that showed 30,000 seats and better views both inside and outside the ballpark through porches and glass windows, plus features like higher, clear-glass roof, a new touch tank, open concourses, and much more.

Image 1 of 8

Courtesy: Populous

The stadium's front porch would then open to a main plaza acting as a community gathering space for bars, restaurants, office space, and apartments. The Rays promise the venue will not only be an exciting experience for baseball, but also other concerts and entertainment year-round.

"The final approvals are in your hands, and with that approval, we can get to work on building this community asset," Matt Silverman, the Rays’ president, said. "A ballpark that will be a source of pride and a springboard for economic prosperity for generations to come."

"We've run out of time on the use agreement to play at Tropicana Field, but we very much want to be here," Brian Auld, the Rays’ president, said.

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

Welch also gave opening remarks before they opened the floor to the council members for questions. 

"This new Rays stadium is so much more than a stadium," Welch said. "It is a community asset that will be used throughout the year, and will be the anchor that supports the surrounding development of the Historic Gas Plant District. It is the foundation for an unprecedented opportunity for jobs, housing, shared economic opportunity and yes, honoring the promises to the Gas Plant Community."

"The promise was never to sell the land to the highest bidder, nor was it to replace the economically diverse Historical Gas Plant community with predominantly low-income housing," he said. "The promise was equitable economic development and this stadium agreement as the anchor to the overall 80-acre Historic Gas Plant development powerfully fulfills that promise and meets a number of our current community priorities from housing to office space."

ALSO: Tropicana Field ranked as 2nd worst ballpark in MLB: USA Today

The anchor for the Historic Gas Plant District comes with a $1.3 billion price tag. The county would pay about $312.5 million from its tourist development tax, the Rays said. The city would contribute $287.5 million. 

That amount doesn’t include the city’s contributions towards the surrounding Historic Gas Plant District, which would include residences, offices and entertainment space.

The Rays would pay for the rest of the stadium construction, and the costs to maintain and to operate the stadium after it opens. 

SIGN UP: Click here to sign up for the FOX 13 daily newsletter

Welch said the city hopes the larger tax base created by the development will offset the debt paid on the $287 million bond.

"I think that the administration thinks that it's worth the money to provide the benefits that we're going to get, but my contention is that we've had offers to create all of those benefits multiple times over without subsidizing a stadium, and yet we chose to subsidize the stadium," Council Member Richie Floyd said.  "So, connecting the two, developments together, the broader development and the stadium is sort of a clever trick to make sure people don't know how much money we're spending on the stadium and how little we're actually getting back."

"I don't want it to be transferring a public wealth to the private sector," he said. 

Floyd told the Rays and the city’s project team on Wednesday he thinks the project will cost the city more than it will get in return. The city’s administrator said that’s not the case, touting the economic benefits the project is predicted to create for the entire county.

"People may say that Major League Baseball had nothing to do with the renaissance in this city," Robert Gerdes, St. Pete’s city administrator, said. "I'm not sure about that. I think they have played a role in that. They bring us visitors. You know, there's no doubt in my mind that visitors come to see baseball games. How many? I don't know, but the history of our city is that we're essentially a spiderweb. If we can get someone to come here, we can keep them here because it's paradise, and once you come to paradise, you want to stay. So, getting visitors here is so important."

The Rays and the city’s project team said the stadium construction would create 4,500 jobs and $443 million in economic output. The stadium would also generate $465 million in total economic output in Pinellas County, and create more than 15,000 jobs county-wide, the Rays and the city’s project team said. 

Floyd also said he doesn’t think there’s a need to rush "headfirst" into a deal without making sure they do all their due diligence. 

Other council members told the Rays they want to make sure it’s not just about getting visitors here, but also keeping the residents that are here happy. Council members also said they want more frequent project reports. They also had some concerns about parking, including where the 14,000 spots would go.

Several council members have expressed concerns in the past over affordable housing and whether the plan forces the developers to finish the job.

Following Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Welch issued the following statement: 

"The new Rays home is so much more than a stadium. It is a community asset that will be used throughout the year—an anchor that will support the surrounding development in the Historic Gas Plant District. The Rays stadium will be the foundation for an unprecedented opportunity for jobs, housing, shared economic opportunity, and honoring the promises to the Gas Plant community.  

There has been an extraordinary level of review, analysis and negotiation, and that is to be expected for such an extraordinary project. The proposed funding partnership is extraordinary as well, with the County providing significant funding through the bed tax, the Rays providing more than half of the estimated $1.3 billion stadium cost, and assuming responsibility for cost overruns, insurance, and future capital expenditures. Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting moves us closer to an impactful public-private partnership."

On Thursday, city council members are expected to make their first round of votes before a final vote is expected on July 11. The public will also get a chance to share their thoughts at the city council meeting at four p.m. Thursday. Community groups against the deal said they’ll be outside City Hall protesting. Many of them say they don’t want public money used for private use. 

There’s another workshop on July 9, two days before the Rays hope to have city council approve the deal. In the end, five votes are needed from eight council members. A tie means no deal. Pinellas County Commissioners also have to approve the deal.