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Column

Nice art, but can we please see numbers?

By HOWARD TROXLER, Times Columnist
Published November 29, 2007


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The color drawings are very pretty. They show an exciting new baseball stadium on St. Petersburg's waterfront.

They show a gracious new "downtown west" that would rise on the site of the existing Tropicana Field.

And if color drawings were enough...

Oops, wait a minute.

That is exactly the trouble. In St. Petersburg, color drawings and slogans and sweet talk are enough. They've always been.

We're talking about a city that is a tad weak on the meaning of "due diligence." Let's put it this way: To balance this year's budget, St. Petersburg is still waiting for that prince from Nigeria to send the cash he promised.

Unfair? Oh, yeah? Let me know when you have a few extra hours to hear about some of the business deals St. Petersburg has rushed into over the years.

And please remember, above all other things, that this City Hall just spent several months misleading the taxpayers about these stadium plans, even keeping them secret until after the City Council elections.

So forgive me if I am not in a trusting or confident mood.

No offense intended to the Tampa Bay Rays, or the team's crackerjack lineup of experts. As a Rays fan and kind of a groupie of the management, I think it's all really neat and exciting. Honest.

But it's not color drawings I want to see. It's black and white numbers and contract language - and as we were told time after time Wednesday, a lot of those pesky details are Yet To Be Determined.

Got a bunch of questions, and I'm still too dumb even to know what most of 'em are. They range from what happens when the revenue from redevelopment falls short, to liability, to what method of debt is going to be incurred, whose names will be on it and whose pocketbooks behind it.

Let's see, the ballpark is supposed to cost $450-million, right? And the Rays are gonna chip in about a third...

No, wait. When you put it that way, it makes it sound like the owners are gonna drive up with a moving van full of cash. What are you, nuts? It's kind of this two-step, where they say they'll pay more rent, and the city will then borrow more money based on that, which becomes "their" share. ... right.

No "new" taxes needed? Sounds nice - except that depends on your definitions as well. There are public resources and tax dollars involved at every step.

And all we have to do, to get started, is to have City Hall draw up a request for proposal to redevelop the Tropicana Field site...

AAAAAAIIIIEEEE! The very words "city" and "request for proposal" are scary in a deal of this magnitude. Dare I invoke the Ghost of Bay Plazas Past? How about big purple gambling ships?

Look, we're talking about a City Council that once deliberately voted not to read a major contract before approving it, on the grounds of, Heck Fire, We're All Friends In This Room. (If you're keeping a scorecard, that one was Baycare Health Systems).

And so, in conclusion:

For. The. LOVE. OF. MIKE.

Can we please, please for once not just sign a deal all dewy-eyed and giggly?

Can the City Council for once not abdicate its role?

Can we run this through the wringer with people smarter than us looking for every possible contingency, for where the public faces exposure or might be at a disadvantage?

I know, I know. Had to ask, though.

[Last modified November 29, 2007, 00:10:08]


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