Rays Announce Plans to Leave Trop
On Monday, June 21, Rays’ President Stuart Sternberg announced that the team would not be playing at Tropicana Fieldwhen their contract ends in 2027. In fact, he doesn’t want to be in Downtown St Petersburg at all and wants to look elsewhere in the Tampa Bay area.
On Thursday, June 24, St Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster notified the team that he would not consider any locations outside of St Petersburg. He also reiterated during a meeting with City Council that the Waterfront is off the table.
Thursday’s Fox newscast summarized the situation to date and explained why it is so important that the POWW Wallets initiation needs to get on the ballot. We are working on getting a link to this segment, but have nothing right now. If any reader can supply it, please send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since the Rays’ broke their silence on the long-term suitability of the Trop, news outlets have been reporting, and speculating, on the positions of local officials throughout the area. Here is the St Petersburg Times take on the issue.
Further, there is no guarantee that Tampa or Hillsborough county would pay any amount at all for a new stadium.
What is POWW?
Past, Present and Future
POWW (Preserve Our Wallets and Waterfront) was formed with a mission to preserve St. Petersburg's waterfront and the wallets of St. Petersburg's citizens. To do this, we mounted a campaign to stop a professional sports facility (a new, 30-story high stadium for the Rays) from being placed on our waterfront parks at our expense. It was a campaign against "corporate welfare." The battle also involved saving the City from both a logistical and environmental disaster.
As you are aware, that battle was won. POWW's red signs sprung up all over town. In June 2008, the Rays withdrew their plan to build on the site of Al Lang Field. Subsequently, the City Council re-zoned Al Lang as "Park" and reduced the height limit for the site from 300' to 75'. What this means is that only park-appropriate uses can go on the site (e.g., no office structures as a primary use), and no structures over 75' high can be placed there. Al Lang field can still be used for baseball and other functions.
The City Council could re-re-zone the property, but not without public hearings, so the waterfront is well-protected, as long as the citizens of St. Petersburg care about our 100-year-old Waterfront Park system.
So, what is POWW doing now, and what is the status of any new stadium?
While it is unlikely that a stadium will ever be built on the waterfront, a coalition of business people (A Baseball Community, or ABC) is currently studying other potential sites for a new Rays' facility. Some of the sites being studied are in Hillsborough County. This has St. Petersburg's administration ticked off, to say the least.
Rick Mussett, our City's development director, is now stressing the fact that the City and the Rays have a contract that will keep them playing in St. Petersburg until 2027. Hopefully Mayor-elect Foster will also insist the Rays honor their contract, something he was not committed to during the recent Mayoral campaign.
POWW is alive and well, and has the same mission it has always had, but we are now concentrating on Preserving Our Wallets. If a new professional sports facility is to be built anywhere, and involves our public funds or debt, the citizens of St. Petersburg should have a say, via our electoral process. Taxpayers should have a vote on whether that is how we want our tax dollars spent.
Mayor Foster is on record for requiring a voter referendum, if a new stadium would involve taxpayer money. We trust Mr. Foster will keep his word. The problem is that, while the Mayor can propose placing an item on the ballot, the City Council has the final word. Five Council members could prevent the Mayor from honoring his promise. In addition, future Mayors could decide not to go through the referendum process. A City Charter amendment requiring such a referendum would take the decision out of the hands of current and future Administrations.
A recent editorial in the St. Petersburg Times suggests the tax revenues currently being spent to make bond payments on the Trop be used for building a new stadium, after those bonds are retired in 2016. You may or may not agree that this would be a worthwhile way to spend the freed-up funds. You and other citizens of St. Petersburg should be allowed to vote on the re-allocation of the $11,000,000/year in City and County funds currently being spent on Trop bonds.
As things now stand, hundreds of millions of your dollars could be spent to enrich a privately-owned entity, without your approval. Although people wanted a say when the Trop was originally built, no vote was required, or taken..
What is POWW doing, going forward, to ensure your right to vote on what could be a huge expenditure of your money?
POWW is currently collecting the signatures needed to place a referendum on the 2010 ballot. This initiative asks the citizens of St. Petersburg to approve an amendment to the City Charter. The POWW amendment would require a voter referendum if St. Petersburg assets or debt were to be used for a professional sports facility to be built anywhere.
We are required to collect about 16,000 signatures (10% of registered St. Petersburg voters) to place our measure on the ballot. This is a daunting task, and we need all the help we can get. If you are a registered voter in the city of St. Petersburg, and you have not already signed POWW's Wallets Petition, please download it, print it, sign it, and return it to the address on the bottom of the form. Print as many as you want, and get your friends, neighbors and relatives to sign them as well.
We also need volunteers to collect signatures door-to-door (we can provide walking maps), and we need donations to fund a direct-mail signature-gathering effort and the future campaign, when POWW's proposed amendment is placed on the ballot. Donations can be mailed to our P.O. Box (see below) or made by credit/debit card or PayPal on our website.
This is the only way to guarantee your right to have a say in how millions of your tax dollars are spent and to guarantee your right to vote on at least one important matter affecting your wallet!!