Email Insights: Ed Montanari cautions St. Pete City Council on Rays deal

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A former member of the Chamber of Commerce’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Baseball is asking the City Council to take a harder look at the deal on the table between Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Rays before voting on the measure.

In a current Memorandum of Understanding, the Rays would have to pay the city $4 million a year until 2018 to play ball outside the city. After 2018 that annual fee would go down to $3 million and then $2 million with nothing being owed in 2027 when the current contract expires. There is also no immediate fee for looking for other stadium sites outside the city and no mandate for the Rays to help with demolition costs if they move from the Trop.

City Council members had been set to vote last week, but postponed that vote until today to allow more time to consider the deal.

“Because of the many issues involved, I strongly believe that you need to study all of the aspects that are at stake before proceeding with a vote on the MOU,” Montanari wrote in a letter to the mayor and City Council.

“Having a major league team in our city benefits our residents in many ways. It helps establish St Petersburg as a regional destination, and draws many visitors from outside Pinellas County to see a baseball game. It also provides thousands of jobs, from people that work at the stadium, in hotels, restaurants, bars, our police department and more. A 2008 economic impact study, done by the highly respected Dr. Walter Klages, concluded that the Rays franchise generated a minimum economic impact of approximately 100 million dollars annually to our city.”

Montanari asks City Council to consider several things before voting – conduct an economic impact study, quantify the city’s financial investment in attracting and retaining a Major League Baseball team, determine a value of the MOU to the city and secure an outside legal opinion regarding how the MOU will affect the city’s current Use Agreement with the Rays.

Montanari’s letter differs in what other critics of the MOU are asking. Many argue the deal is a loss for the city and lets the Rays off too easy. Montanari is merely asking for more consideration before moving forward. The Rays have said they won’t accept any changes at all to the current MOU, but they have not weighed in on whether or not the deal would be taken off the table if it’s not approved in a timely matter.

City Council is set to vote on the agreement today at its 3 p.m. meeting.

Here is Montanari’s complete letter:

December 17, 2014

Dear Mayor Kriseman and City Council Members,

I would like to thank you for your service to our city and share my concerns about the proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City of St Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2008 I served on the Chamber of Commerce’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Baseball and have been involved with this important community asset ever since. This issue before you will likely have the most profound ramifications for the future of St Petersburg in a generation.

As you know, St Petersburg has a rich history with Major League Baseball, dating back to 1914. In the early 1970s we embarked on a long-term goal to attract a regular season team to St Petersburg. This effort was successful after an estimated investment of over 400 million dollars to attract and retain a major league franchise. In order to secure that investment, and protect the taxpayers, the city and the Rays signed a long-term Use Agreement that requires the franchise to play all home games at Tropicana Field through the 2027 season.

Having a major league team in our city benefits our residents in many ways. It helps establish St Petersburg as a regional destination, and draws many visitors from outside Pinellas County to see a baseball game. It also provides thousands of jobs, from people that work at the stadium, in hotels, restaurants, bars, our police department and more. A 2008 economic impact study, done by the highly respected Dr. Walter Klages, concluded that the Rays franchise generated a minimum economic impact of approximately 100 million dollars annually to our city.

Because of the many issues involved, I strongly believe that you need to study all of the aspects that are at stake before proceeding with a vote on the MOU. I recommend that as a minimum the following items need to be accomplished:

  • A new economic impact study should be completed to assess what the loss of the Rays would have on St Petersburg.
  • An accounting of the financial investment the city has made to attract and retain a Major League Baseball franchise.
  • The value of the MOU to the City of St Petersburg.
  • Secure a legal opinion from the outside legal counsel that the city has previously retained to assist in evaluating how the proposed MOU would impact the contract under the City’s existing Use Agreement with the Rays.

Thank you for giving this important matter serious consideration. We all share a commitment to our city, and the understanding that we must carefully manage and care for all that has been entrusted to us. I urge you to take the time necessary to insure that the right decisions are made for our current residents and future generations that will call St Petersburg home.

Very truly yours

Ed Montanari

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.