On Tuesday, Pinellas commissioners tore St. Pete officials a new one for holding the Rays to their original 1998 contract language and not letting them consider possible deals in Hillsborough County (even though St. Pete has basically allowed the Rays to look at sites in Pinellas County).
The challenge it presents to the county is commissioners don't know if they'll need their tourist development tax (a.k.a. bed/tourist tax) revenues for a Rays stadium, a Braves spring training stadium, or other expenses the money could be spent on like beaches or new tourism-drivers.
But many of those same commissioners were singing different tunes back when running their seats.
Commissioner Janet Long
The Times' Tracey McManus wrote Tuesday that Long was quite upset St. Pete was hogging a regional asset and delaying possible expenditures on a new Rays stadium:
"We are being held hostage, not being able to make a decision, and we have a responsibility to our taxpayers to do that," said Commissioner Janet Long. "We can't just be held hostage forever because some partner can't make a decision, and there's a difference between being a partner and practicing extortion."But when she ran for office in 2012, she advocated a hands-off approach, honoring St. Pete's contract with the Rays.
"From my perspective," Long said in an e-mail to WTSP, "it is premature to talk about funds for a new stadium for the Rays. This is a conversation that needs to be settled between the City of St. Petersburg and the Rays."
She added, "it isn't the function of government to subsidize multi-million dollar team owners."
Commissioner John Morroni
Charlie Frago tweeted that the commission chairman wanted to delay any Toytown decisions until a new St. Pete council is seated, but pressured the city to make a decision quickly so the county can decide if it will commit any bed tax dollars to the Rays. The Tampa Tribune quoted Morroni as saying, "I would like to wait and see what our partners are going to do...they need to get this done. Either way, get it over with.”
But Morroni told WTSP in 2014 that while he would hate to lose the team, he couldn't see future Pinellas Co. bed taxes committed to a team that doesn't even draw when it's winning. He added that he wasn't sure a new stadium would be prudent or necessary.
Commissioner Dave Eggers
The former mayor of Dunedin was quoted Tuesday saying, "I don't want to keep flying in the dark," and urging a quick resolution in St. Pete to move forward with any possible bed tax conversation at the county level. When he ran for his seat in 2014, he said MLB and spring training stadiums are what the bed tax collections are for. Eggers even went as far to say as he'd support a regional collaboration between several counties to make a new Rays venue a reality, although he admitted it may be far-fetched given the region's attitudes. He also suggested governments should get a cut of revenues from taxpayer-funded stadiums, while conceding it may also be a far-fetched hope given pro sports teams' demands for all stadium revenues.
Commissioner Pat Gerard
Gerard said Tuesday that she wanted a quick resolution to the stadium standoff. In 2014, she made a similar comment to WTSP: "I'd hate to see (the Rays) leave the county, but we should do anything we can do to keep them in the area." She was open to spending bed tax dollars on a new baseball stadium, but also said the county's tourist development tax may be better-spent on tourism-drivers such as arts or a new port.
Commissioner Ken Welch
The most consistent commissioner, Welch has long-supported bed tax dollars going toward a new Rays stadium in Pinellas County. Welch is a St. Pete resident who Tweeted Tuesday: "
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