Transparency on stadium financing serves Pinellas residents and the Rays | Editorial

The deal to build a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium in St. Petersburg will require a lot from the public — a lot of land, a lot of money and a lot of time. That’s why all sides need to be transparent from the start about what taxpayers are getting into, and why elected leaders must have the details required to make informed decisions. St. Petersburg’s City Council should make that understanding clear as it meets to discuss the venture for the first time Thursday.

The team and local officials announced an agreement in September to build a new park in downtown St. Petersburg near the Tropicana Field site. Pinellas County and St. Petersburg would commit $600 million in public money, roughly split between the two, with the Rays covering the rest of the stadium’s $1.3 billion anticipated cost.

The city’s participation, however, goes further and deeper. St. Petersburg would spend up to $130 million more for infrastructure improvements as part of the larger redevelopment of the Historic Gas Plant District, a multibillion-dollar plan for the surrounding area that includes residences, office and retail space, a concert venue and other features. With interest, the combined public subsidy could hit $1.29 billion over time, with the city’s portion at about $704 million, the Times reported this month. And the proposal, which the City Council and County Commission must approve, gives the team a 30-year lease with an option for 10 more. In other words, this is a substantial, long-term partnership with many moving parts that could reshape St. Petersburg for generations.

That’s why it was good to see the city overcome a recent early hiccup as the Rays’ proposal headed for its first council vetting.

As part of the bidding process, the city required the Rays and development partner Hines to submit a 20-year cash flow analysis for the project. But the group balked, saying it didn’t want to disclose the projections, calling them “trade secrets” and exempt under Florida’s open-government laws. Council member Lisset Hanewicz rightly complained it made no sense that the administration was privy to the details but not the council, when the council had final city authority over approving the deal.

This was a needless mix-up that could have soured relations early on and fanned public skepticism about the proposal. But city officials said Tuesday they resolved the matter after convincing the Rays to share the data. Florida law provides a narrow exception to the open-records statute that keeps some business information held by the government confidential. Council members will have access to the projections, though they cannot share them publicly. This is a well-established procedure that balances proprietary business rights with a government’s obligation to be accountable for public funds.

The city was smart to address Hanewicz’s concerns so quickly. While this deal revolves around a stadium, the city will actually be crafting eight or nine related agreements to seal the overall deal in the coming months. With so many points to negotiate, the city and county will need to ensure that whatever’s lawfully required remains in the public domain. But this marks a good start in what could be a beneficial new era for area residents and the Rays alike.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.