Who’s for and against the Tampa Bay Rays stadium deal? Here’s a scorecard.

A clash last week between two St. Petersburg religious leaders showed just how divisive a proposed $6.5 billion deal to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg has become.

The Rev. Andy Oliver of Allendale United Methodist Church is working with groups that believe public money should not go toward private stadiums. They argue that public dollars earmarked for nearly half of a $1.3 billion stadium would be better spent on Pinellas County residents struggling with the cost of living. Oliver and these groups protest project expenses such as the $130 million St. Petersburg has pledged to the surrounding redevelopment for things such as roadwork, or the sale of that public land for $105 million when an appraisal found it’s worth $279 million.

Oliver said that organizations that are supporting the deal have benefited through sponsorships of the Rays. On. Feb. 20, he commented on a story about the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Florida backing the plan, saying the article should have disclosed the team’s financial support for an event held by the group.

The Alliance’s president, the Rev. J.C. Pritchett II, didn’t take kindly to Oliver’s opinion. The alliance is a religious group of 27 Tampa Bay faith-based organizations, ministers and pastors.

Pritchett posted a screenshot of Oliver’s comment on Facebook, dismissing him as someone who likes media attention, criticism he later deleted.

“It’s offensive to me as a minister for you to say that for a $2,500 check that (the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance) is endorsing this work,” Pritchett told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday, sharing a photo of the check dated Feb. 14.

Pritchett said his side supports the project because the Tampa Bay Rays and its development partner Hines have pledged $50 million to the community for affordable housing, to build a new Woodson African American Museum of Florida and to help minority-owned businesses.

While the St. Petersburg City Council will decide on what will become of the 86 publicly owned acres that now include Tropicana Field and surrounding parking lots, there’s plenty of time for tensions to escalate between supporters and opponents.

A vote by the council appears likely to happen in May. The deal has picked up several backers, including regional nonprofits and business boosters. It’s also drawn fire from state and community groups and former city leaders who once played a role in past city economic development efforts.

Here’s a scorecard, so far, of who’s on which side.

For it

St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Council

The group works to convince businesses to move to or expand in the region. Last week, the council’s new president, Mike Swesey, praised the deal. The Rays sponsored the council’s annual meeting, and Rays co-president Brian Auld is on the council’s board of governors. The team gave away yellow T-shirts with a “Here to Stay” graphic at the meeting.

“If we send away remarkable partners like Hines and the Rays, that is going to send a very negative message to the business community that we are not welcoming to get the job done,” Swesey said.

The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce

The chamber endorsed Hines’ and the Rays’ plan when the city was reviewing proposals. Lately, the chamber has had its representatives attend City Council meetings to speak in favor and write endorsements to council members.

Chamber president and CEO Chris Steinocher said at a December meeting on the deal’s community benefits that, while the city could get paid more for the land sold to the Rays and Hines, another buyer would build to the highest and best use, such as condos, instead of affordable housing.

“If this deal walks away today, it’s going to be five, eight, 10, 15 years before we build anything on that parking lot,” he said.

University of South Florida

The university’s president, Rhea Law, and regional chancellor of USF St. Petersburg, Christian Hardigree, wrote a letter last week to the City Council that says USF “stands firmly in support of this forward-thinking initiative.” Law and Hardigree wrote that there are ongoing discussions between Hines and the Rays and USF about the university having a presence on the development site.

“This unprecedented investment in our community will pay dividends for generations to come and we stand ready to do everything possible to help ensure its success,” they wrote.

St. Petersburg Arts Alliance

The CEO of the umbrella organization of the city’s arts community wrote a letter in December to the City Council expressing “heartfelt support of The Rays and their undertaking to honor and elevate our community through the Gas Plant Project.”

CEO Terry Marks wrote that she has personally worked with Auld, who along with the Rays “understand the arts to be an economic driver in St. Petersburg.” The Rays last month sponsored the alliance’s annual celebration, and Auld and the Rays and Rowdies were honored as the alliance’s “arts advocates of the year” in 2023.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor

Castor, D-Tampa, whose district includes downtown and eastern St. Petersburg, wrote a letter to council members Feb. 6 in support of “building an affordable, cohesive and dynamic community with a commitment to equity and economic opportunity.” She listed incentives such as the Inflation Reduction Act, which could provide grants and tax credits for the project that would lower costs, and urged the city to apply for federal grants.

Against it

Americans for Prosperity, Florida Chapter

The conservative think tank founded by the Koch brothers hasn’t done an economic analysis of this deal, said Florida State Director Skylar Zander, but is opposed to “corporate welfare.” It points to many studies that show that publicly funding sports stadiums don’t drive solid economic return.

“What cities are paying for … is basically a mascot,” Zander said. “If the city really cared about building an African American museum, they should do it without having to make it a this or that situation.”

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker

Baker tried unsuccessfully to negotiate his own deal with the Rays in 2008, until the team proposed a waterfront stadium downtown that faced hefty public opposition. He has lobbied council members to require that the team change its name to the St. Petersburg Rays because of the city’s subsidy.

“I think without (the name change), it’s not worth the cost,” Baker told a Times reporter.

Alan DeLisle

DeLisle, a former St. Petersburg development administrator who helped land the St. Pete Pier under former Mayor Rick Kriseman, said the deal doesn’t look good from a financial or an economic development perspective.

Mayor Ken Welch has worked to undo several high-profile economic development projects DeLisle oversaw, including a stadium redevelopment deal under Kriseman. But DeLisle says that has nothing to do with his assessment.

He said the city is foolish to pay $130 million upfront for new roads and other infrastructure. And he says the team has so far not provided adequate guarantees that it will come through on completing specific priorities in a timely manner, such as affordable housing.

“You never put all your money in upfront and hope for the best,” DeLisle said. “They’re going to end up with a stadium but not much more.”

Faith in Florida

Activists with nonprofit Faith in Florida, a statewide nonpartisan network of congregations addressing systemic racial and economic issues, have showed up to multiple public meetings opposing the deal. They are backed by national civil rights law organization the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is investigating the history of how the city first acquired the land and how eminent domain was used in the name of economic development that didn’t materialize, and the Miami-based Community Justice Project, which advocates on behalf of low-income communities.

No Home Run

No Home Run is a group formed specifically to oppose the deal led by Ron Diner and Tom Mullins, who are former Raymond James Financial executives. Diner and Mullins’ analysis decries taking on new debt, not collecting taxes on the stadium site and selling about 65 acres of public land at a significant discount. Members of the group are lobbying council members to negotiate a better deal.