Fallout continues from Bill Foster’s ‘talks-are-going-badly’ memo

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Predictably, the Times headline this morning, “Mayor: Talks going badly,” created a lot of other headlines today… even though the mayor never actually said talks were going badly.

However, councilmembers were telling the Tampa Tribune that’s exactly what’s going on: the Rays are refusing to compensate St. Pete for leaving Tropicana Field early:

“Their premise is they shouldn’t have to pay us anything,” (council chair Karl Nurse) said. “I can’t imagine how they can say, ‘We owe you nothing. Goodbye.’ And I can’t imagine the city agreeing to that.”

Mayor Foster said negotiations were going well until Bud Selig’s August 15 comments, but now no further meetings are scheduled.

These compensation disagreements – if they are true – are part of the unsurprising tug-of-war over public opinion and negotiating leverage.  Two years ago, Shadow of the Stadiumwrote, “What Bill Foster is Thinking” and it still rings true today:

It comes to down to preserving St. Pete’s equity in Major League Baseball. The city agreed to build a stadium in exchange for 30 years of baseball. Foster sees anything short of that benchmark unacceptable.

Is he willing to negotiate? Sure. Is he willing to accept financial restitution in exchange for early termination of the contract? Probably. But that hasn’t been offered by the Rays.

What has been offered is a region-wide search for a better location and Foster already knows what that would yeild: a Tampa vs. St. Pete tug-of-war. When the Tribune suggests a Tampa stadium plan would do nothing to interfere with St. Pete’s relationship, they’re wrong. It takes away St. Pete’s leverage.

And in a stalemate that will ultimately come down to a negotiation over hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies, Foster the Lawyer can’t afford to lose any leverage.

Just like a homeowner, St. Pete has a right to look out for the equity it has built in this contract; those are taxpayers’ dollars.

And if you disagree, ask yourself these questions:

  1. If you buy a home and finish paying off your 30-year mortgage early, is your equity zero just because you have finished the debt service? Or do you still have the right to the equity you originally bargained for?
  2. If Evan Longoria decides he deserves a better contract, does he have the right to walk away from his current deal without penalty?
  3. If the Rays claim they’re bringing value to Tampa, doesn’t it suggest they’re taking it away from St. Pete?

Meanwhile, sportstalk radio was all abuzz with Rays talk Thursday and I spent a good 15 minutes chatting with WDAE’s Steve Duemig (you can listen to it here). But one thing he asked was if Mayor Foster’s public foray was “politicking.”  My response: “of course!”

The political ramifications of any major news two months before a major election are always calculated.  And the Times was quick to recap the “campaign rhetoric” fallout.

“I don’t lie,” mayoral challenger Rick Kriseman told the Times. “You can trust me…We will have honest dialogue.”

But Foster fired back, telling the Times, “There is a big difference between politics and governing…I’d appreciate it if he’d leave the governing to me. I’m not going to play politics with taxpayers’ money.”

When asked what he’d do different, Kriseman said he’d push mass transit (which Foster has supported as well) and propose the Rays pay for the right to look in Tampa with a different kind of concession:

Rather than charge the team a fee for exploring sites outside the city, he would grant permission in exchange for them lowering ticket prices next season to lure more fans. He also wants to create incentive programs with restaurants and hotels to make games attractive to tourists and visitors.

The Rays declined to comment on the ideas and Foster then called them “naive”:

“I have been working with the organization for two years to make sure taxpayers interests are preserved and recognized,” (Foster) said. “It sounds like a Kriseman administration would give everything away.”

Given the politicking between the mayoral candidates, there was uncharacteristically little from city council this week, as I first pointed out this morning.

My WTSP colleague Preston Rudie spoke with councilmember Charlie Gerdes, who authored the unsuccessful amendment to allow the Rays to look in Tampa, and his message was that MLB should just butt out at this point.

As for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, he told Rudie that baseball just won’t work in St. Pete, but he’s still stuck on the sidelines until the Rays and St. Pete finalize their “divorce” and give Tampa their blessing to start talking.

Cross-posted from Noah Pransky’s award-winning Shadow of the Stadium blog.