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Live blogging St. Pete City Council’s Rays drama one Wengay rant at a time

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete City Council’s workshop talking about the Rays, Tropicana Field, Wengay Newton’s bowtie and all things St. Pete baseball is about an hour and a half underway. We realized, those who aren’t watching are missing out on some serious drama.

Well, folks, keep it tuned here for the blow-by-blow.

First, here’s what you missed.

Some architect students from USF SP showed off their nifty projects evaluating possible uses for the 85 acres of space currently occupied by the Trop and a crap-ton of parking spaces.

They were nice — soccer stadiums, residential, live/work units, art space, a reinvention of Booker Creek. If the Pier gets axed again, maybe these kids could come up with a third plan.

Then there was a bunch of talk about why this is such an issue in the first place. Council Chair Charlie Gerdes said there are two schools of thought — an agreement with the Rays to look for new stadium sites is the best way to keep them in St. Pete or the region or an agreement is  “subterfuge for we’re leaving anyway.”

Now they’re talking about economic impact of baseball in St. Pete with much consternation.

Here we go …

4:02 — Karl Nurse makes inadvertent Monty Python reference by talking about “tracts of land.” He suggests there are plenty of stadium sites in St. Pete, possibly more so than in Tampa.

4:16 — Some people come directly for baseball; many other people will come for a variety of reasons so it’s harder to tie impact to baseball. Bottom line, it is not a precise science.

Earlier — economic impact could be anywhere between $16 million and $300 million. Yep, definitely not a precise science.

4:20 — talking about city-conducted economic impact study Mayor Kriseman has already said no to.

4:22 — Kornell: If the Rays have a $92 million impact, that’s every year. That doesn’t go down. So when we say, oh, just let them go it’s not a big deal – it’s a huge deal.

4:26 — Kriseman: “When you have a damages claim, you don’t just say here’s the economic impact … there’s a lot of factors.” So, basically, calm down Steve Kornell, economic impact is way more complicated than you’re making it!

4:27 — Nurse: “To what degree does it bring people from the outside and money from the outside? I think we tend to overstate the economic impact of all these things.”

4:30 — Taking a three-minute break. Potty break!

4:41 — Kriseman: “In 12 years the Rays will in essence be a free agent …. And we get nothing when that happens.”

Kriseman thinks the best place for the Rays is St. Pete; “makes the most sense.

“I am absolutely confident and I saw no harm in letting them look in Tampa.”

4:44 — MOU is all about keeping the Rays in the region. If they leave the region, agreement is void.

Kriseman: “What I do know is if the Rays were to determine after looking in Hillsborough and Pinellas County … that they felt that staying in St. Pete was not in their longterm best interest … under the agreement we now have 100 percent of the rights to development.”

4:47 — Comparison to Fusion property, Trop land could be worth $1.25 billion.

4:48 — Bring on the scare tactics. Kriseman is talking about the risks of waiting to develop on Trop land, including higher bonds, weakened economy, sharing half of the revenue with the Rays. Also frowns on a piecemeal version is a bad idea.

4:51 — Kriseman: “If you think you’re going to be able to negotiate a better deal, you are mistaken.” Kriseman said council needs to not just look at how much money the Rays pay to look for stadium sites, but need to consider the impact of “doing the deal versus not doing the deal.”

4:54 — Jim Kennedy fires right back at Kriseman. “If you tell me this is the best deal that will ever be on the table … that kind of makes it easy, we don’t need to negotiate anymore.”

Kennedy says, “It’s an asset that the citizens of St. Petersburg brought to the table that the region is enjoying.” Not the other way around.

4:57 — Kriseman: Waiting 12 years to develop Trop site means other investors in surrounding land don’t have certainty because they don’t know what’s going there. Kennedy fires back, “but they’ll know it’ll be something cool!”

There are some vacant homes in my neighborhood. I think I’ll move because I don’t know who’s moving in…

4:59 — Epic mention of Mitch Perry. Woo! Ooh, twice! Go Mitch, go Mitch!

5:01 — Kornell wants $55 million from Rays.

5:02 — Kornell makes basketball relocation comparison (Sonics). Kriseman says it’s not a fair comparison because they moved outside of the region. The St. Pete MOU would require the Rays to stay in the region.

5:03 — Kornell: I didn’t compare apples to apples.

5:06 — Kornell calls bulls*t on city’s $36 million figure on the current MOU. Says its more likely to only be $16 million.

“It’s on SaintPetersBlog,” Kornell says regarding a Kriseman quote in Mitch Perry’s Rays story earlier. “Oh, well then it must be true,” someone shouts to a roar of laughter. You can’t make this up.

5:13 — Welp, Wengay is back with his quips. “I don’t want to get cut off by the chair anymore.” Gerdes laughs.

5:15 — “Don’t tell me you love me, show me.” Well said Newt. Says the agreement should be too expensive so they have to stay. “Why don’t you keep your right leg and we’ll move forward? It’s already mine!”

These statements are made all the better by the yellow bowtie and Rays shirt.

5:17 — Bill Dudley finally chimes in. Asks how much to make a stadium. Answer: $400 million.

5:20 — Dudley’s input on this is key. Kriseman needs two of the previous no-voters to switch to a yes on a new deal. Amy Foster said she would give it “thoughtful” consideration and didn’t seem passionate in either direction. Newton, Kornell and Kennedy have made a hard case for still being in the no-category. Foster and Dudley seem to be Kriseman’s and the Rays’ best bet right now.

5:22 — Can’t be 100 percent sure, but this sounds like a “no” from Dudley. “With us being the owner and having a tenant telling us what the terms are – if they want to negotiate than we’ll sit down and talk.”

5:26 — Kennedy and Kriseman are going back and forth. Kriseman is not amused. It almost sounds like how everyone else talks to Newton.

“It’s going to take us a few years to figure out what we want to do,” Kennedy says in regards to developing on Trop land after they leave. He suggested the city could get ready by doing studies and such.

“The studies you do today aren’t necessarily going to be valid in 2027,” Kriseman fires back.

5:30 — “Wengay, let me finish please,” scolds Karl Nurse. This meeting is turning into a school house food fight with little kids who use smart words.

5:39 — Charlie Gerdes is proving his skills as chair. He’s asking to set prioritized goals. 1: keep the Rays in St. Pete w/ development on the land. 2: Keep the Rays in Pinellas County w/development on the land.

Kennedy says keeping them in the region is his fourth priority.

“I think it requires an attitude for the Rays to say they want to be here,” Kennedy says. “If they continue to say no, we don’t want to have a discussion, to me all that means …”

5:44 — Dudley looks like he’s had enough. Gerdes and Kennedy are bickering. This meeting is quickly becoming an exercise in arguing for the sake of arguing. Hope for resolution is fading. Desire for adult beverages is increasing.

5:47 — Dudley wakes up to agree with Kennedy — best way to keep Rays here is to tell them we’re “ready, willing and able to build them a stadium.” Gerdes says maybe we’re ready and willing, but he’s not so sure we’re able.

Have you caught your tail yet? Because I’m still chasing mine.

5:49 — Elephant in the room (err, not in the room) is finally addressed. No one from the Rays is at this meeting.

5:57 — Power surge just made me lose all my notes. Good thing I’m live blogging!

Karl Nurse says “at some point we’ll be going round and round in circles.” See previous comment about chasing tails. We’re already there buddy.

6:12 — Speaking of circles, we’re now back to the ULI study.

6:15 — Karl Nurse wants to study what a study might look like. That way it’s not too committal for the likes of Jim Kennedy.

6:18 — Charlie Gerdes doesn’t need a study. He knows what that property is worth.

6:20 — Awe, Gerdes looks sad. He said he’s going to have to throw his hats away because they have “TB” on them.

6:23 — Kriseman says he’s not sure why he’d pull staff off other projects to look into a ULI study especially if the Rays aren’t a partner moving forward.

So, fun comparison. This whole discussion is starting to sound like kids fighting over who gets to sleep with the puppy when the puppy doesn’t want to sleep with either one of them.

6:32 — There are now two motions on the floor. One to approve the updated Memorandum of Understanding and approve  asking the mayor to retain ULI for a study. First one fails, but Amy Foster switched her previous no to a yes. That means there are now four on each side. Kriseman needs to woo one more.

Important note — these are straw votes. They are entirely non-binding.

6:42 — Kornell is going toe to toe with Kriseman’s chief of staff, Kevin King. King says without an MOU the Rays leave. Kornell says there’s not way anyone could know that for sure.

6:46 — Newton uses can of fruit punch as an un-necessary prop.

6:56 — Steve Kornell says the reason he’s having a hard time getting a new tenant to replace the long-shuttered Sweetbay on 62 Avenue S. and Ninth Street is the lease is still valid. Rent is still being paid. His point, you don’t just let businesses out of their lease.

7:07 – I’m suddenly noticing that Bill Dudley is a really cool guy.

7:17 ADJORDED!!!!!!!!! Who needs an overly priced stadium beer?

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.

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