By Jim Bleyer
Two highly-regarded city councilwomen from opposite sides of Tampa Bay articulately discussed intra-city collaboration on transit, the arts, the environment, international trade, and law enforcement at the weekly Cafe con Tampa gabfest Friday.
But when questioned about a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium almost fully funded by taxpayers, St. Petersburg’s Darden Rice and Tampa’s Yolie Capin sounded as if they were auditioning for local native Mel Tillis’ biopic.
For them, their respective councils, the Hillsborough and Pinellas County Commissions, and most importantly, local citizens who will foot the bill, there are no answers.
County Commissioner Ken Hagan, for months if not a lot longer, has conducted negotiations in secret. He has been the sole public official involved in what will be a momentous and potentially ultra profitable land deal for private interests and the Rays—financed by taxpayers.
Apparently he feels he has carte blanche to negotiate on behalf of the Tampa City Council and Hillsborough County Commission and not be obligated to inform any of their members, let alone the public. A couple of weeks ago he declared that “the community has reached an agreement with land owners” to gain site control of about 14 acres in Ybor City.
Rice noted that Hagan’s announcement was just as much of a surprise to his fellow Hillsborough County commissioners as anyone else. She said that if the ballclub abandons Tropicana Field for another location in Pinellas County, there is a dedicated funding source available but there “is no appetite to pay the full costs” of a new stadium.
Capin acknowledged the Tampa City Council has not actively pursued the stadium but agreed with Rice that the Rays presence is a regional asset.
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is expected to comment imminently about relocating the stadium from St. Petersburg to the proposed Ybor City site.
Tampa Bay Beat reported that real estate baron Darryl Shaw, who stands to reap at least $100 million from a stadium relocation to Ybor City, is one of the secret “investors” who bailed out the Tampa Bay Times earlier this year.
Shaw, who has donated to Hagan’s 2018 re-election campaign, entered into an option agreement with a nonprofit led by Tampa lawyer Ronald Christaldi, who represents Shumaker, and local businessman Charles Sykes. It can transfer the site to the county, Rays or any other entity, should the team agree to move to Tampa.
The machinations that could lead to a $600 million taxpayer ripoff are shielded from public record. Because the corporation is a nonprofit, all communications and finances are not subject to the Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law. According to the Florida Department of State’s Division of Corporations, corporate papers were filed by Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP.