EXCLUSIVE: St. Pete nixed bid involving zero public funds for Rays’ stadium — instead chose Rays who asked for $600+ million

This 20-year cash flow analysis of a losing bidder for the site development of the proposed new Rays stadium, obtained exclusively by the Tampa Bay Guardian through a public records lawsuit, is illuminating. It shows that St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch selected the Hines/Rays development proposal asking for $600+ million in public funds over a proposal asking for $0 (zero) in public funds.

Notably, the cash-flow analysis was not provided to us by 50 Plus 1 Sports, a company based Coral Gables, FL that was one of three unsuccessful bidders on the stadium project. Instead, the analysis was reluctantly provided by the City of St. Petersburg after we sued them to get it. More on that later in this article.

“We do not plan on using any sources of public funding for this project,” 50 Plus 1 Sports’ previously undisclosed cash flow analysis states. No such statement can be found in their publicly available proposal. Their 2-page executive summary that was submitted with the proposal stated “no city funding requested” without further explanation, but was silent on whether over $300 million of county funds would be requested, as the winning Hines/Rays proposal does.

Thus the “not any public funding” information that our efforts uncovered truly is news.

The heretofore secret document authored by 50 Plus 1 Sports also called for a 99-year ground lease with the city (not ownership), revenue sharing and twice the number of affordable housing units than the winning bidder Hines/Rays. Because the “Rays” portion of Hines Rays is the Tampa Bay Rays Major League Baseball franchise, that bidder has the option to move the team if they don’t get their way. Is that why they were selected as the winning bidder?

Even if that is true, the question has to be asked: if 50 Plus 1 Sports or anybody else had been selected, do they have the ability to deliver what they promise?

In January 2023, after four bidders had submitted their proposal but before St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch announced his pick for the winning bidder, the Tampa Bay Times claimed that “city officials” told them that 50 Plus 1 Sports was “an unlikely choice to develop the Trop site.” The article didn’t say which city official(s) had told them so.

Leaking who is likely or unlikely to be awarded the largest contract is city history to media that shills for the Rays would likely violate the “Cone of Silence” rule that e.g. Miami-Dade County has adopted. That rule “prohibits any communication regarding a particular RFP, RFQ or bid solicitation after they have been advertised” and before an award is made. The rule “is designed to protect the professional integrity of the procurement process.”

The City of St. Petersburg’s charter contains a Cone of Silence rule, but it only places restrictions on bidders, not city employees. The city apparently believes that allowing anonymous leaks to city-friendly media that shills for the anointed winning bidder before a winning bidder is even announced is a proper way to conduct public procurement.

The Tampa Bay Times also threw shade on Kiran Patel’s (Restoration Associates) proposal, calling it “not a favorite among city officials.” But that claim was based on a statement in the public record by City Architect Raul Quintana that the bidder “does not meet qualifications and should be rejected.”

The same month that Mayor Ken Welch announced his selection of a winning bidder, the Times Editorial Board wrote that they liked certain aspects of the fourth bidder’s proposal (Sugar Hill). Less than two weeks later, they unsurprisingly opined that they “strongly encourage the mayor to choose the Hines-Rays group.”

But this isn’t article about the cozy relationsship between the city, the Rays and the shill Tampa Bay Times that shills for them both. A key question is: why did the city fight so hard to keep the 50 Plus 1 Sports cash flow analysis from public view? Yet they immediately coughed it up when sued over it.

St. Petersburg Chief Assistant City Attorney Jeannine Williams (photo from her LinkedIn profile)

“You will receive the City’s response to the request for the 50 PLUS 1 Sports analysis as soon as the City has the information it needs to make the determination whether the analysis from 50 PLUS 1 Sports is exempt,” Chief Assistant City Attorney Jeannine Williams wrote to us on January 5th in response to our public records request. The city only started making its own determination as to whether it could release the record to us, rather than relying on the claims of bidders, after we pointed to this 2016 Florida Attorney General opinion that requires the city to do make its own determination.

Two months passed without any updates from the city, so we filed this public records lawsuit and served the city with it on March 11th.

On March 22nd, without making reference to our lawsuit and without any explanation, St. Petersburg City Clerk Chandrahasa Srinivasan via email provided the record (the 50 Plus 1 Sports cash flow analysis) to us that the city had refused to provide 3 month earlier.

Our lawsuit also demands the city release the same cash flow analysis for the Hines/Rays proposal. Hines/Rays was the winning bidder for the stadium site, what the city calls the “Historic Gas Plant” site, and city council members will be relying on that analysis in making their decision whether to approve the deal. Yet the public is not allowed to see their 20-year cash flow analysis.

The 20-year cash flow analysis that Hines/Rays gave the city “is confidential and exempt pursuant to Sections 119.0715, 812.081, and 815.045, Florida Statutes,” Williams claimed in a November email to the Guardian. In providing that response, Williams was simply repeating what Hines/Rays asserted when they submitted that document.

Also for the Hines/Rays cash flow analysis, the city has failed to make its own determination as to whether their analysis is a releasable public record or not. We have sued to get that document as well.

We will likely have follow up articles on this matter. City Council is expected to vote on this multi-billion dollar project in May.

As always….the Guardian reports and the readers decide. Please like our Facebook page to find out when we publish new stories.