The city is caught off guard after the county imposes an Aug. 8 deadline to help determine funding for a proposed new stadium.
By CHRISTINA HEADRICK
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 26, 2000
CLEARWATER -- Because of a new deadline imposed by Pinellas County, city administrators are hurrying to produce an agreement with the Philadelphia Phillies to finance a new spring training stadium.
The "memorandum of understanding" should spell out how much the Phillies and the city each will pay to build the new $20-million stadium, and may include the basic outline of the future lease of the stadium, said Keith Ashby, the city administrator negotiating with the baseball team.
The terms will be worked out this weekend in telephone calls, Ashby said, and the stadium will be the subject of a public hearing on Tuesday evening, in an effort to appease the county's demands for the information by Aug. 8.
"It really puts the heat on everyone," said City Attorney Pam Akin. "It's very fast."
The clock began ticking last week. Pinellas County Administrator Fred Marquis and County Commissioner Bob Stewart told city officials that they wanted to know the specifics of the city's deal with the Phillies by their Aug. 8 County Commission meeting.
At that meeting, the commission will begin debating whether to chip in $7-million for the new Phillies stadium, to be off Drew Street and U.S. 19, Stewart said.
"I'm not going deal in vague proposals," Stewart commented. "Either it all gets spelled out and identifies the actual sources of dollars, or we might miss this opportunity."
City officials assumed that they wouldn't have to produce any such agreements with the Phillies until Oct. 1, the deadline the city must meet to apply for additional state funding to help build the stadium.
Ashby was even hopeful that the city would be able to persuade state officials to wait for specifics on the city's arrangements with the Phillies, giving the city several months to finish negotiations with the team.
So the county's demand for the information startled some city officials.
"I was a little surprised that the county needed numbers so quickly," said City Commissioner Bob Clark. "I don't want to feel rushed into this deal. We'll see what we get and then if we can satisfy the county's request."
"This train is going pretty fast right now," Ashby said.
The basics of the stadium deal are this: The county, state and city would each contribute about $7-million to pay for the sports complex's construction.
The county would use hotel bed tax money for the stadium, which would require the county to reprioritize other projects funded by the money. Another option would be to add a fifth cent on the county's 4-cents-per-dollar hotel room tax.
But such hotel tax funding will be disputed.
"We have written a letter . . . stating that we are against using the taxes for a baseball stadium," said Treasure Island Mayor Leon Atkinson, who chairs a governmental council of all the county's 10 island cities. The Barrier Island Governmental Council is opposing any stadium deal that uses hotel tax money.
"We supply a lot of the hotel tax money on the beaches," Atkinson said. "But people in St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island worry that we're not going to get much business out of a stadium in North Pinellas. . . . They would like to see more of this money put back into the beaches."
Clearwater would use a combination of funding from deals with the Phillies and Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenues for its $7-million contribution to the stadium.
The general framework of the city's deal with the Phillies has been discussed for several months with the baseball team, Ashby said.
The Philadelphia Phillies have suggested paying for architectural and engineering costs associated with the new stadium -- a non-specified amount -- as their contribution.
City officials have said they want to cap the city's costs at about $2-million in Penny funds.
Additional money is expected to come from selling naming rights to the new stadium. But whether the Phillies or the city would have the right to sell the name is still being negotiated.
City officials have been vague about the terms of the city's future lease for the new stadium. Currently, the Phillies pay nothing to lease Jack Russell Stadium but cover maintenance costs.
When the new stadium is built by 2003, Clark and Ashby said that the city might start covering utilities payments. But the city may have access to other kinds of revenues from the stadium to reimburse the city for any such new expenses.
City documents show the city is angling for up to $600,000 annually in revenues from parking, naming rights, the rental of a cellular phone tower and stadium rental.
Ashby said the figures were meant as a starting point for negotiations.