Florida Pilot

A compendium of random thoughts from a former Washington Beltway insider who is now having a lot more fun flying small airplanes in Central Florida.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Secret stadium negotiations fail, taxpayers saved so far

Over a year ago, the Tampa Bay Rays started their efforts to get a new taxpayer-subsidized stadium so that they could increase the profits the team earns for its out-of-state owners. For almost nine months, the Rays conducted secret negotiations with St. Petersburg city leaders. Only after the team's plans were leaked by the media, were the public let on on what was envisioned as the largest subsidy by far to a private business in St. Petersburg city and Pinellas county history.

As soon as the plans became public, they started to fall apart. When scruitinized. the team's rosy financial and other projections, apparently taken at face value by St. Petersburg officials, were shown to be unrealistic and/or imcomplete. For example, the team originally indicated that the city could raise enough funds from selling the site the current taxpayer-owned stadium occupies to pay for the new stadium. After serveral months, the city discovered that the sale of the entire 86 acre parcel that existing stadium and related infrastructur occupies would not even pay what is still owed on the stadium to say nothing of demolition costs.

The Rays offered optimistic projections about parking but they never bothered checking with many of the parking lot owners to see if their space would be available for stadium parking. Also, the Rays out-of-town owners suggested that some sort of a sail would substitute for air conditioning and protection from Florida's summer storms. Had this turned out not to be the case, it would probably have cost the taxpayers another few hundred million to fix the problem.

While the Rays and their supporters kept talking about how important it was for St. Petersburg to remain a "major league" city, evidently by doing eveything the team owners demanded on an immediate basis, the Rays treated City leadership and taxpayers like country bumpkins. Anyone with a $5 calculation, pencil,and the back of an envelope could start to demolish the figures provided by the Rays.

As criticism began to mount, some St. Petersburg elected officials began to get nervous about backing the Rays. Even council members started asking questions and the mayor refused to offer his complete support although the wheels to accomplish what the Rays had requested remained in motion. In one serious setback for the Rays, the city failed to select the developer for the old stadium that they Rays had preferred.

Becuase the Rays had decided they wanted the new taxpayer funded stadium on the waterfront, it had to be put to the voters. With a strong likelihood of a rejection by the voters, the Rays apparently withdrew the question about use of the waterfront land from the upcoming election. Although one would think it was the City's responsibility to decide what is going to be on the ballot, apparently that authority has been delegated to the Rays -- additional evidence of just how much the City officials are "in the tank".

Although the Rays have abandoned their goal on an immediate basis, this is certainly not a time for complacency by concerned St. Petersburg taxpayers. For one thing, the removal from the ballot of the allowing use of city waterfront land to benefit a private organization will deny the voters an opportunity to be heard on this importatnt question. Mayor Baker wants the status of Al Lang field, the parcel in question, to remain the same. Given what has happened so far, it is hard to interpret this as anything other as an attempt to allow the Rays to buy time to try to change public opinion.

What is most outrageous is the impression that the City of St. Petersburg has, in essense, contracted out its entire city planning function to a baseball team.

Second amendment comes to life

The Court's correct reading of the Second Amendment represents a trememdous boost to individual freedom. Obviously, it is disappointing that four of the justices failed to acknowledge the obvious but the struggle for freedom and liberty is never easy and it is never over. The usual lobbys and the politicians they support will loudly complain that this ruling will lead to more violence but time will show them wrong as it has every time restrictions against people being able to defend themselves have been removed.