Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What St. Pete's Election Means for the Rays

Crazy results in today's St. Pete mayoral primary, where Mayor Rick Baker finished in a virtual tie with incumbent Rick Kriseman.  With just about all of the votes counted, Kriseman's unofficial total was 69 votes more than Baker. That's 48.36% to 48.23%.  Of course, since neither Rick reached 50%, it does not matter and the two will head to a run-off in November.

That's fantastic news for both Kriseman, who was on the verge of an outright loss according to polls, and also good for Rays fans hoping to keep the team in St. Pete, for they now have two more months to try and keep Kriseman in city hall, their best bet for keeping the Rays in St. Pete.

It may also delay conversations about Tampa's stadium pitch, as the team has quietly told folks in Hillsborough they don't want to influence the mayor's race.

Earlier this month, I interviewed both candidates about the city's pro sports future, and reported on some of the big differences in their loyalties & visions.  St. Pete seems to be too small for two top-level teams, and Baker is a natural ally of the Rowdies after quarterbacking their MLS 2 St. Pete campaign (sorry to mix metaphors) while Kriseman has been a reliable partner to the Rays.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Times' instant editorial on the election quickly dismissed St. Pete's chances for a new Rays stadium, writing "it is apparent that a new baseball stadium is not likely to be built on this land for the Tampa Bay Rays, who are more likely to prefer a new stadium in Tampa."

Except the assumption seems to be based on nothing more than Ken Hagan's promise of a possible stadium location near Ybor City. County commissioners haven't heard the plan, which is likely to compete with other budget priorities; city councilmembers haven't heard the plan, which is likely to be unpopular with some; taxpayers haven't heard the plan, which is likely going to cost them money; and most importantly - nobody in Hillsborough has any idea how to pay for the darn thing. Don't count Pinellas and its deep pockets out.

Hey Times, what happened to the days of calling on St. Pete and Tampa to work together on this for "complementary rather than competitive efforts?" And warning about Commissioner Ken Hagan's "poor track record when it comes to limiting public subsidies?" The secretive negotiations and tug-of-war only hurts taxpayers.

City Council showdowns

In an eight-way primary for the District 6 seat, Justin Bean will advance to the runoff after besting the field with approximately 21% of the votes in the small district. He will face either Robert Blackmon or Gina Driscoll, who appear to be separated by just EIGHT votes with the overwhelming majority of ballots now counted. They will have to wait for a recount to know their official fates, however. In the general election runoff, any voter in the city can vote.

Bean, who was a consultant on the Tropicana Field redevelopment project, said "no public funds" for the stadium during his campaign, but said he would be open to using tax money for infrastructure and surrounding development. It was reported Blackmon wanted to use city resources to market the Rays better, as well as offering the team redevelopment money and possibly a CRA/TIF district to help pay for construction.  Driscoll campaigned on a methodical approach to the Rays, reportedly supported a new stadium, but only after additional input from locals and financial commitment from the Rays.

Two other city council races will also be decided in fall: District 2 and District 4.  Neither race had a primary because each had just two candidates qualify.

In D2, Barclay Harless, who promised "not one dime" for the Rays until the city gets its sewer problems under control, faces off against fellow Democrat Brandi Gabbard.  10News previously showed how some St. Pete stadium dollars were coming from the same revenue pot as sewer dollars.  Gabbard has supported relocating the Rays into her North St. Pete district, possibly to the Derby Lane site.

In D4, incumbent Darden Rice, a Democrat who has been methodical but supportive of Kriseman's path on the Stadium Saga, seems to have an insurmountable advantage over 21-year-old challenger Jerick Johnson, who has only raised $4,331 compared to more than $100,000 raised by Rice.

A fourth council seat up for grabs went uncontested this year, with incumbent Amy Foster winning re-election unopposed.

St. Pete's general election is set for Nov. 7.

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Rays, Hagan Continue to Sweep Funding Conversations Under Rug, Make Mockery of Transparency Promises

For seven years, the Rays been able to distract from the Stadium Saga's biggest challenge (funding) by focusing the conversation about their future on location.  This weekend's latest Times' editorial, "An intriguing site for new Rays stadium" - and to a somewhat lesser degree, John Romano's in-depth examination of an Ybor City site - were the latest pieces to gloss over the extreme public price tag that seems to come along with Hillsborough's super-secret plan.

But a stark contrast to that editorial was Joe Henderson's excellent Times column, focusing on Commissioner Ken Hagan's love of Cobb County's super-secret, not-so-great, potentially-illegal deal with the Braves, a deal called "the worst sports stadium deal ever," which includes county subsidies to the tune of $82 per passenger to get fans and employees to the stadium.

Henderson examined how much "infrastructure" Hagan might be willing to commit Hillsborough County to.  And he wrote about how little the Braves contributed to all of their privately-controlled development, while property taxes (in a county that can't afford its public parks) largely help fund that stadium:
They did this without a voter referendum.

Hillsborough County is studying this?

Study away guys, and then do just the opposite.
Henderson is a former sports columnist, by the way.  He continues to ask rhetoricals about stadium financing:
You'll probably hear a lot of talk about creating a special-taxing district in and around a new stadium, to help with financing. That's fine, even though it won't generate nearly enough money. Tourist taxes? The fight for that money will be bloody if backers try to divert millions more to a stadium.

Every time I pull at these threads, it keeps coming back to fact Major League Baseball generated about $10 billion in 2016 and the cash keeps coming in.

What that means is we can dream about an Ybor stadium all we want, but until we see what the Rays are willing to pay, a dream is all it will be.
The lack of transparency is a common theme in stadium talks across the country, and the Rays' Stadium Saga is no exception.  The team promised to be different than the Marlins and be open about funding years ago...but executives have done nothing but deflect questions about how much they're willing to pay for their new home for nine years.

And, as the Times' editorial board wrote in 2014, "transparency isn't Hagan's strong suit," either.  The links below and this 2016 commentary should help make that abundantly clear.   He improperly deleted text messages during a 2015 investigation into his back-room dealings and his office routinely struggles to comply with the state's law on producing public records in a timely fashion.
Hagan also promised to provide more details on funding last fall but has yet to utter a single peep on what it will cost the public in nearly 12 months since then.

In fact, the growing expectation for public subsidies for the Rays is something I examined a week ago, as is Ken Hagan's shift from "no public dollars" on a Rays stadium to a plan that will likely include more public money than Raymond James Stadium.

Hagan has repeatedly said, "There will never be another Raymond James/sweetheart deal in this county," but its looking more and more like the public cost of a Rays stadium will be hundreds of millions of dollars, compared to the "just" $168 million it took to build Raymond James Stadium ($253 million in 2017 dollars).

A Hagan history on Shadow of the Stadium:
I'll be writing more on the extreme public price tag of a new Rays stadium in the upcoming days...so when the county tries to sneak this plan through claiming, "your tax dollars won't be used," you have all the real information at your fingertips.

Meanwhile, in other news, the Rays' TV ratings have basically held steady from a year ago, pulling in a 2.9 avg nightly rating, good enough for first among all Tampa Bay cable programming.  And even though the same numbers that ranked the Rays 13th in MLB last year has them at 20th this year, they still stand to make more money the next time their TV contract comes around for negotiations.

Of course, they won't disclose when that is.

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Hillsborough Commissioner Gets Check From Former MLB Exec Now Getting Paid by Hillsborough County

The Hillsborough commissioner leading the charge to move the Tampa Bay Rays to Tampa has collected a campaign check from one high-profile donor who is already benefiting from the stadium efforts.

Thanks to longtime Shadow of the Stadium reader Scott Myers for catching Bob DuPuy's name in Commissioner Ken Hagan's May donor report. DuPuy gave Hagan the maximum-allowable $1,000 toward his 2018 campaign.

Bob DuPuy is a former MLB president and now partner at law firm Foley & Lardner. Foley & Lardner is the same firm Hagan and the county have reportedly paid nearly $200,000 to for its assistance in luring the Rays across the bay.

Hagan also recently reported donations from Rays owner Stu Sternberg and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. He has been trying to find creative ways to get public dollars for a new stadium in Tampa.

Hagan has served as a county commissioner for 15 years and will be term-limited out of his countywide seat in 2018, but will be seeking another four-year term as a commissioner for District 2. His fundraising prowess has often scared off opponents, and so far, only one other person has filed to run against Hagan in 2018, fellow Republican, Chris Paradies.

Hagan has reported $350,661 in fundraising for the race through July 31, while Paradies has reported just $3,000.

DuPuy served as MLB COO and President from 2002 to 2010. He also gave Hagan a $1,000 donation in 2013, just before the county hired DuPuy's firm.

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Rob Manfred, Stu Sternberg Make it Clear Taxpayers Had Better Bring Their A-Game on Rays Stadium Offers

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred made a visit to Tampa Bay and told reporters yesterday...more of the same stuff he's been saying for years.

Manfred said the Rays are in great need of a "major league-quality facility" (to which I ask, when did it stop becoming one?), and said talks needed to be put on "the front-burner" (to which, I ask, have they not been?!?).

In fact, Tom Jones penned a column this morning asking the same rhetorical question, "Wait, it hasn't already been on the front burner?"

Jones continues:
"Manfred said a new stadium needs government support, which sounds an awful lot like, "Hey, don't expect my buddy Stu to pay for this thing." Manfred also said he has no preference where the stadium is built.
And that's why this thing is taking so long. The Rays have refused to talk money for nine years. Despite promising transparency. And it has halted any real progress.
After all, the whole conversation about the perfect site is a big ole distraction to the real issue: funding. And its a way for the Rays to pit Hillsborough against Pinellas, which is already happening. I mean, how do you go shopping for a home without knowing if you're working with a Hyde Park budget or a Pinellas Park budget??

Not much has changed in terms of transparency over the years:

Meanwhile, back to Manfred, his comments yesterday weren't any different than what he said a month ago at the All-Star Game, where Field of Schemes summarized, "I think we may need to just admit that Rob Manfred is not very good at this move threat thing...Rays and Oakland A’s fans should be grateful, I suppose, since they don’t have to wake up to “Manfred says [your team here] could move without new stadium” headlines today.

Well, here in Tampa Bay, we woke up to headlines today of more Manfred non-threat threats, even though his most recent comments were really no different than any others.

In 2016, he said relocation was "possible" if the situation reached a point of "desperation"...but they weren't there yet.  In 2015, he suggested it was time for Tampa Bay to step up its stadium game. And earlier that year, he basically said local taxpayers needed to be prepared to cough up some dough to keep the Rays long-term...or else.

Nine years after all the Stadium Saga fearmongering started, whattaya know - the team is still here...and we aren't really any closer to building a new stadium in Tampa Bay.

Unless, of course, you count the fact that politicians like Commissioner Ken Hagan, who once campaigned on "no public dollars" for a stadium, have warmed the public up to the idea of spending hundreds of millions of public dollars to make a deal happen.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A New Rays Stadium Would Be Expensive, So Hillsborough Commissioner Asked Sheriff if He'd Consider Vacating His HQ for Project

In his search to find the Rays a new place to play in Tampa's urban core, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan has toyed with the idea of relocating the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office headquarters out of Ybor City to make room for a new stadium, WTSP has learned.

Multiple sources confirm Hagan approached Sheriff David Gee about a stadium in the heart of Ybor, although it is not clear if the land swap idea was entertained by the soon-to-be-retired sheriff.
UPDATE: Hagan text messages obtained by WTSP reveal the two men met in April to discuss the swap.

It is also not clear if Hagan was exploring the possibility of using the HCSO property for a stadium or as part of stadium-related development.

But while relocating the sheriff's office might have alleviated some of the challenges in financing a ballpark, it would likely put the burden of a new HCSO headquarters on an already-beleaguered county budget.

Hagan has repeatedly refused questions from WTSP and did not respond to interview requests either Monday or Tuesday.

RELATED: Ken Hagan, Hillsborough Man of Mystery

In addition to helping the Rays find the "pitch-perfect" site for a new stadium, Hagan has also assumed the lead on trying to find available public revenues that could help the Rays pay for a new stadium. On Monday, WTSP broke the story of how the county was exploring federal transit dollars to help finance Rays-related development.

Providing public land for stadium development could be another possible avenue for taxpayers to subsidize the project. Hagan, who once advocated "no public dollars" be spent on a Rays stadium, has recently said he thought taxpayers should help with the "infrastructure" side of a new stadium.

County-owned land
HCSO headquarters is located at 1900 E. 8th St. in Ybor City, and is part of a nine-acre plot of land owned by the county.

While nine acres is not likely big enough for a stadium, the property sits conveniently adjacent to four acres worth of properties owned by developer Darryl Shaw, who has been quietly amassing land in Ybor City for future development. Four additional acres of parking lots also sit adjacent to the HCSO property.

County-owned land plus Darryl Shaw-controlled land
A representative for Shaw said he would not be available to comment Tuesday.

St. Petersburg has already pitched the Rays on its proposed new stadium project at Tropicana Field, as Hagan and Hillsborough County prepare its public pitch at a yet-to-be-disclosed site. The Rays are believed to want to wait until after the St. Petersburg mayoral election is decided, which will either be late August or early November.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

With Local & State Tax Money Sparse, Hillsborough Wonders if Federal Transit Money Could Pay for Rays Stadium

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Florida - With a long list of projects in need of local tax dollars and the poor track record of professional teams landing state stadium subsidies in recent years, Hillsborough County may be eyeing federal dollars to help get a new Rays stadium built in - or near - Downtown Tampa.

Emails obtained by WTSP-TV Monday reveal separate meetings recently taken by both the Rays and Hillsborough County administrators with a transportation consultant.

On August 2, Mark Aesch, the CEO of TransPro Consulting, wrote Hillsborough County CFO Bonnie Wise an email with the subject, "Rays and Transit Livable Communities Funding."

According to national nonprofit Next City, the Livable Community Act supports local projects focused around transit-oriented development, encourage density, and decrease the negative impact of development on the environment.

Excerpts from Aesch's email include:
"I've been interacting with (Rays Senior V.P.) Melanie (Lenz) and the team over at the Rays .... and having discussions about how we have successfully used federal transportation dollars to create partnerships with community priorities (transit $$ into a Performing Arts Center - university, etc)."

"In any case --- the folks at the Rays have been very interested," Aesch continued. "Melanie asked me to reach out to you - hence my having a great opportunity to do so! I am actually meeting w Mike and Chip on another topic on Monday August 7 ..... so if perhaps late AM might work for you ---- would love to be together."
Ensuing emails showed Wise and Aesch arranged an afternoon meeting on Aug. 7.

The Rays declined comment on this story, while Aesch did not respond to a Monday afternoon email requesting comment.

A county spokesperson said Wise was the only employee available to comment on the matter, but she would be unavailable until Wednesday this week.

RELATED: Ken Hagan, Hillsborough Man of Mystery

However, the Rays have been outspoken about the importance of transit improvements to their future in Tampa Bay, making several political donations to local transit political campaigns over the years.

Details about how Hillsborough County would potential fund a stadium - and how many tax dollars would be in-play - have been few and far between. County commissioner and lead Rays negotiator, Ken Hagan, has avoided creating public record or making public comments regarding the tax dollars discussed behind closed doors.

However, Rays owner Stu Sternberg recently donated $1,000 to Hagan's re-election campaign. Hagan did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

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Ken Hagan Still Plans to Offer Rays Taxpayer Money without Taxpayer Input

Seven Eight quick reactions to this morning's Tampa Bay Times story on how little news there is on the Rays-to-Tampa front:

For reference, here's the 2015 post on Cobb Co's secret, not-so-great, potentially-illegal deal with the Braves.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

USF Trots Out Pretty Pictures of Proposed Football Stadium to Distract From $200M Price Tag

For seven years, I've highlighted the financial struggles of the USF athletics program, but this morning, they announced a $200+ million football stadium on-campus they hope will fix all that.

Some key tweets:

Of course, I've been tracking USF's athletic budget challenges since 2011. And a stadium will certainly compound the problems: not enough football profit, booster contributions, or TV dollars to cover their Division-I-sized expenses.

School officials said this morning no state or educational funds would be used to fund the stadium. But.....

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Kriseman's Comments About Rowdies-to-Trop Site

So, this happened:
But the news was actually first on WTSP:
The Twitterverse went nuts. And word trickled up to MLS:
Except did anyone realize Kriseman wasn't suggesting the Rowdies play in the Trop, but at a new, large stadium next to it, surrounded by new mixed development?
Bill Edwards says he's not interested:
So there's that. Good idea to put on the table, Mayor Kriseman, but it seems to be pipe dreamin'. Maybe just like the idea that two major-league teams could thrive at the same time in St. Pete.

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What the Kriseman/Baker Race Means for the Future of the Rays & Rowdies

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Downtown may be booming, but in an already-saturated professional sports market with few Fortune 500 companies, St. Petersburg may be hard-pressed to support another major league-level team.

In my latest for WTSP-TV, I explain how the stressed market likely means St. Pete's next mayor will help determine if the city will be the long-term home to a major league baseball team or a major league soccer team.

Tens of thousands of St. Petersburg residents have now received ballots in the mail for the city’s Aug. 29 mayoral primary, where incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman is trying to fend off a challenge from former mayor Rick Baker. There are four other fringe candidates in the non-partisan race, so if neither Baker nor Kriseman accumulates 50 percent of the vote, the two will head to a November run-off.

During recent sit-down interviews, both candidates told me they thought the city could support two pro teams; the Tampa Bay Rowdies are campaigning to expand Al Lang Stadium and climb to the Major League Soccer (MLS) ranks, while the Tampa Bay Rays are looking for a new long-term baseball home in either St. Petersburg or Tampa.

However, the Rays have complained about a lack of corporate support for years and disposable income levels around Tampa Bay remain among the lowest in the nation’s large metros. Adding a second major draw in St. Pete – in addition to the Buccaneers and Lightning in Tampa, plus numerous minor league teams around the region – would only stress the market further, according to Forbes’ sports business writer Maury Brown.

“People have a limited discretionary income,” Brown said. “Some people will be able to go to two or three (teams over the course of a year) but some will have to pick and choose.

“You’re always going to be looking (at) whether you are cannibalize your corporate base or your attendance base.”

Is St. Pete big enough for MLB and MLS?
Some of the main findings of the ABC Coalition, the group created by then-mayor Baker in 2008 to explore the long-term feasibility of keeping the Rays, was that the team suffered from a lack of both population and corporations located within a 30-minute drive of its stadium.

In 2010, team owner Stu Sternberg told the region the team needed a new home “in a place that makes us attractive to the region’s businesses and community. For this franchise to survive, it needs to have the support of the businesses of Tampa Bay.”

Since that press conference, the team’s attendance has continued to slide almost every year, now hovering at just more than 15,600 fans per game – by far, the worst mark in the majors.

FLASHBACK 2010 blogpost: Are Rays creating a self-fulfilling prophecy?

So even though both Kriseman and Baker said they were confident the city was big enough for both the Rays and Rowdies to grow and succeed long-term, the numbers suggest otherwise.

With a population of 261,000, St. Petersburg is major league baseball’s smallest home city. The Tampa Bay region is home to only four Fortune 500 companies. Recent market studies have suggested Tampa Bay is running a “substantial deficit” of total personal income, and there is “insufficient” capacity for any new teams.

Rowdies owner Bill Edwards and his top deputy, former mayor Baker, have steadfastly claimed the Rowdies could draw 18,000-20,000 in St. Pete as an MLS team.

“The Rays are in a bit of a bind right now,” Brown said. “If they have a new facility, I think there’s little doubting that there’d be would be increased attendance and that there’d be other corporate members that would want to jump onboard. But when you add another (major-league) franchise into the mix...it dilutes the market.”

The Rowdies joined the city of St. Pete to launch an “MLS2StPete” campaign, targeting the league’s expected winter expansion. Many cities vie for two spots, but Edwards is one of the only bidders who promised to pay for $80 million in stadium upgrades himself, as well as the $150 million MLS expansion fee. The team’s long-term lease with the city would likely be negotiated by whichever administration wins the mayoral election: incumbent Mayor Kriseman, or Edwards ally Baker.

Which candidate is favored by which team?
While neither candidate indicated he preferred one team over another, the willingness to offer the Rays public subsidies could determine if the team stays in St. Pete for another generation.

Kriseman has already made an initial public offer to the Rays, which included city redevelopment rights to the public land at Tropicana Field, city general revenue tax dollar funds, as well as an assumed contribution from county bed tax revenues. He said it’s a far-sweeter package than his counterparts in Tampa could offer.

But at a time when the city wants to raise fees on residents to fund sewer and infrastructure fixes, Baker suggested general revenue tax dollars should not yet be offered to the Rays. He said he preferred to save the money, if possible, and only give the team county dollars and the rights to redevelopment around a new stadium. Baker, however, would not discuss additional specifics, saying he didn’t want to “negotiate publicly in the media.”

Both Kriseman and Baker have pledged not to raise taxes in order to build a stadium.

But Kriseman’s willingness to spend general revenue money on a Rays stadium could force the city to raise other fees. It was reported this week the city now wants to raise utility fees to pay for the sewer project, while still preserving general revenue dollars in case the Rays need help building a new home downtown.

When WTSP reported in April that proposed stadium dollars could help the city pay for its sewer fixes, Kriseman’s communications director, Ben Kirby, pushed back, claiming the infrastructure work was “already paid for.” But this week’s proposed rate hike contradicts the claim.

Kriseman said his willingness to work with the Rays and allow them to explore stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties – a deal Baker opposed – will keep the team in the area for future generations. He said it's also beneficial to St. Pete, even if the team leaves.

“(The deal) allowed us to start planning for what’s going to be on that Tropicana Field site with or without a team,” Kriseman said. “Very few communities around the country have 86 contiguous acres that are owned by the public that can be redeveloped.”

Kriseman has also met with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. He also said the Rowdies could one day wind up at the Trop site if the Rays leave.

Rays executives and owners have rewarded Kriseman with at least $31,500 in contributions to his political action committee. That includes $9,000 from principal owner Stu Sternberg.

Meanwhile, Baker has led the MLS-to-St. Pete charge and has received $50,000 in PAC contributions from his boss and team owner, Bill Edwards.

Baker says, however, he would negotiate just as hard for the city with Edwards as he would with the Rays.

“When I was mayor before, nobody ever doubted that I was going to fight for the city all the way,” Baker said.

The Rays declined to comment on this story, but are expected to be active participants in the stadium conversation this upcoming offseason, when Hillsborough County could publicizes its top site(s) for a possible new stadium.

In a recent Tampa Bay Times article, Sternberg was quoted, "We've worked with both the mayoral candidates in the past and we've had good experiences with both of them at times."

A spokesperson for Bill Edwards says the Rowdies’ owner has officially endorsed Baker’s candidacy.

Other sports-related issues
In recent years, professional teams have started making more money on ancillary development around their facilities, rather than just counting on revenues that come from ticket and concession sales inside a stadium. It has allowed St. Pete to make the case that the Rays should stay where they are and build a new home at the existing Tropicana Field site.

Kriseman offered the Rays significant redevelopment rights to the site if they stay. Baker indicated those future revenues would be his preferred method of financing a ballpark, although he deflected direct questions about how he would negotiate with the team.

Brown says more owners are looking for opportunities to profit off mixed-use development around a stadium. And that could help St. Pete put together a tempting package for the Rays.

“There’s nothing to say a brand-new shiny ballpark will be enough (for the Rays),” Brown said. “If they have another revenue source to offset some of (the construction costs), and it's in a downtown location, I think that really helps.”

Another area Kriseman and Baker differ with regards to sports teams is in their support for mass transit, seen as a possible game-changer for the Rays and other teams.

Kriseman has been a tireless advocate for rail, improved bus service, and the Cross-Bay Ferry. Baker has taken a more cautious approach toward transit, telling me he preferred the county take the lead on the issue.

WTSP also reached out to the four other candidates in the St. Pete mayor’s race, but none responded to emails, and none are expected to draw a significant number of votes.

The city’s primary election is Aug. 29; if no mayoral candidate garners 50 percent of the votes, a run-off will be held on Nov. 7.

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