Former St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster blasts Rays agreement – tells City Council to improve it

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Although the reaction has been mixed (depending on where you live in the Bay area) to the agreement reached between St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Tampa Bay Rays about allowing the team to negotiate with Hillsborough County on a new stadium, the only people whose opinions truly matter at this time are the eight men and women on the St. Pete City Council, who are charged with approving or rejecting the deal on Thursday.

And there is one keenly observant private citizen who is urging them to seriously review the proposal — because he thinks it’s bad for the city.

Former Mayor Bill Foster has penned a letter to the Council, where he gives an obligatory “thanks” to his successor in coming to terms with the Rays, but says that it’s up to the board to make the deal better for the citizens of St. Petersburg. Foster is an attorney and certainly spent considerable time in office with these issues, so his opinion is noteworthy to say the least (though undoubtedly not appreciated by Mayor Kriseman).

Foster lays out 10 items that he says the Council needs to consider when they approach the vote on Thursday:

1) Termination agreement — Foster says the Council should address now what the Rays will pay upon leaving Tropicana Field, since “upon termination, the Dome becomes an empty shell and a liability to the city, and all costs associated therewith should be borne by the Rays.”

2) Annual Monetary Compensation — As he stated on Monday when the terms of the deal were first announced, Foster says it’s simply not enough money. He says it would cost around $10 million alone to demolish the Dome, along with the costs with maintaining it until it’s razed. Not to mention the economic impact on bars, restaurants and hotels in St. Pete. “You are selling out the City for the price of a Ryan Hanigan” (the Rays 34-year-old starting catcher).

3) No Return on Investment — this is pretty self explanatory.

4) In-Kind Compensation — This is a section of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that calls for the Rays to include signage inside a new ballpark promoting the city of St. Pete, as well as the team offering Rays tickets to the city. This “provides very little benefit to the taxpayers or businesses who will lose so much,” says the former mayor.

5) Indemnification for Bonds — “Indemnification for the city is different than an outright obligation by the Rays to pay off the debt service,” he writes, and tells them to consult City Attorney John Wolfe.

6) Limitations — Here the former mayor sounds a little testy. “How can you argue that ‘damages are not readily calculable’ when you set a limit for damages?” he questions, adding that it “dilutes” the city’s strongest position in the original use agreement,  and “I can assure you the MOU can and will be used against you in a court of law.”

7) Pinellas County — Foster says since the county owns the stadium and could conceivably give it back to the city to put it on the tax rolls, it’d be best to ask for their assent to the agreement.

8) Impact on other events — The day after Christmas, the Trop is host to the BitCoin Bowl. You may remember it as the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl. In any event, Mayor Foster says razing the dome means no more income for the city as there would be no bowl games in St.  Pete’s future.

9) Roof Considerations — Foster says the roof at the Trop is aging and will probably need to be replaced between the time that theoretically the Rays agree to play in Tampa and the time that new ballpark is built. Who will pay for that new roof, he asks.

10) Civic Pride — Of course, this is the emotional sweet spot that perhaps has been the biggest reason why there hasn’t been a proposed agreement up until now. Nobody — or most people in St. Petersburg — don’t want the team to leave. The ex-mayor says that the moment the Council approves the MOU, that civic pride in being home of the Rays “goes away,” allowing him to reiterate that’s why the compensation for  leaving must be greater than currently written.

At this point in time it’s not certain if the Council will approve the agreement. Councilwoman Amy Foster says she’s not certain at all how she’ll vote, and believes such a consequential decision deserves more than 48 hours to digest.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.