Too little, too late: 50 Plus 1 Sports announces partnership with Stifel Investments for no-city-obligation Rays stadium

One of four development teams vying for the 86-acre Tropicana Field site project near downtown St. Petersburg — 50 Plus 1 Sports — is partnering with Stifel Investments to finance a $1.3 billion stadium without using taxpayer money.

The announcement serves as at least some answer to questions raised about the group’s proposal submitted to the city of St. Pete as part of its new Request for Proposals process. 

The team’s proposal, perhaps, seems too good to be true, with promises of not requiring any city subsidy. That pie-in-the-sky promise wasn’t fully explained in the team’s proposal, or clarifying answers to city questions. 

Now they are answering at least one part of the lingering funding question, but gaps remain and the managing partner, Monti Valrie, sounds a bit defensive about it.

The partnership with Stifel Investments would be “a first of its kind,” Valrie wrote in a statement. 

“We have always stated that we are not a typical development firm and we believe that, as developers, we can and must do more to ensure that the entire community benefits from a multi-billion-dollar project,” he continued. 

Yes, sounds great! But that’s where Valrie gets prickly.

“To that point, through our response to the city’s Clarifying Questions, which provided additional detailed financial information, we believe HR&A did not adequately recognize our team’s very strong financial capabilities and commitment — specifically with our financial partner Stifel Investments.”

HR&A is the firm the city tapped to evaluate the four submitted development proposals. Their top picks were proposals from The Tampa Bay Rays and Hines and another from Sugar Hill. 50 Plus 1 was largely dismissed. 

From the Tampa Bay Times: “HR&A found that the proposals by 50 Plus 1 Sports … lack details and specifics. It noted that 50 Plus 1 Sports doesn’t have an affordable housing developer on its team, nor does it have office, hospitality or destination experience.”

The analysis further described a lack of plans for infrastructure financing. 

50 Plus 1 Sports’ investment partnership announcement explained, with limited detail, that the team would “retain one of the many private conduit issuers in the U.S. that is authorized to issue tax-exempt and taxable bonds.” It says debt would be repaid using tax revenue from the redevelopment district taxes, not city taxes, meaning revenue collected from the new development would be used to pay down the debt acquired to create it.

The balance, 50 Plus 1 explains, “would be paid through the revenue share the team (the Rays) has proposed and other similar items.”

“We were created and pride ourselves as a disruptive real-estate finance company not purely focused on revenue, but on job creation, social equity and ensuring that hard-working taxpayers around the country never have to pay for another professional sports stadium or arena,” Valrie wrote in the announcement.

“We believe that a project should be able to stand on its own and not require city governments to use taxpayers’ money.”

Neither the city, state or county would “be required to issue the bonds nor guaranty the bond debt in any manner,” Valrie continued. 

Even if the financing structure for a stadium is feasible, it still leaves questions about overall funding within the entire site, and it doesn’t alleviate other stated concerns about lacking an affordable housing partner or a destination experience, among other concerns. 

It’s worth noting those concerns didn’t just come from HR&A Advisors — city staff who evaluated the proposals offered similar critiques. 

The clock is ticking — fast — for 50 Plus 1 and all of the proposed developers. Mayor Ken Welch has said he plans to make a “major announcement” about the Trop site, which the city now refers to as the Historic Gas Plant District, at his state of the city address on Jan. 30. That announcement is expected to be his developer selection.

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