The clock continues to tick down toward the inevitable December 31 deadline in which Stu Sternberg has to inform the city of St. Petersburg whether he will be opting out of the Tropicana Field lease early. Yet with just 41 days remaining in MOU window, shady negotiation practices by Commissioner Ken Hagan have posted yet another formidable hurdle between Hillsborough County and the Tampa Bay Rays.
According to a bombshell report by Noah Pransky (WTSP News), Hagan kept details of the Ybor City plans secret from the public. However, a major developer — and campaign contributor — was able to profit.
…The secret details of where Hagan and the Rays were planning to put a new stadium were not secret to every member of the public – one key developer was given access to the information that should have been available to all. Hagan had a county staffer draw up maps of the exact location in Ybor City, where the team is now campaigning to put the stadium, as far back as 2016.
The developer used that information to buy land at a discounted rate, put himself in position to profit off the new stadium announcement, then became a significant contributor to Commissioner Hagan’s re-election campaign. At no time were Hagan’s fellow commissioners – or members of the public who requested the public documents – provided the maps.
Hagan also used outside law firms, hired by the county at an expense of a half million dollars over the past four years, to act as intermediary negotiators on a stadium deal. Text messages between Hagan and one attorney reveal how involved Hagan was in conversations and negotiations over land acquisitions – conversations Hagan denied having altogether.
While the location of the desired stadium was a secret to the public prior to November of 2017, it was not a secret to developer Darryl Shaw, the report alleges. Hagan used outside counsel Irwin Raij as an intermediary during the talks, as Shaw began purchasing properties in and around the proposed stadium site at a time when nobody else was given access to the plans.
The two regularly texted in between phone calls, emails, and meetings to discuss stadium progress, writes Pransky, including texts in April 2017 where they appear to be discussing Shaw’s price demands, presumably for the land he would profit off of.
He wants roughly 100 per ft, Raij texted Hagan on April 12.
Just for ballpark? I assume that includes a hefty premium lol, Hagan wrote back.
Pransky notes that Hagan and Raij also talked extensively in 2017 about the secret plan to assemble Ybor City land purchase agreements through a newly-created nonprofit straw buyer.
They discussed the price of the purchases, right-of-way (ROW) issues, and looping then-county attorney Chip Fletcher into the conversation.
“Is the row issue the only one remaining? That’s a non starter for Chip,” Hagan texted Raij in September.
Raij texted back, “Darryl has indicated he will agree to a 15 month term, but has t (sic) offered yet. The ROW/sf issue is the one major issue outside of andys request for zoning protection. As an FYI, Andy wants in on row $$$.”
It appears likely the “Andy” that Raij referenced was Andy Scaglione, a property developer who also owns land in – and around – the proposed stadium footprint.
Scaglione also serves on the Tampa Sports Authority board with Hagan, meaning the state’s sunshine laws prohibits the two from coordinating on private discussions that may relate to the sports authority.
Subsequent texts between Hagan and Shaw involved discussions about county zoning policies and cash negotiations with Shaw.
“On phone with daryl (sic). He has lowered price to 32m. Making a little progress. More work to do,” Raij wrote on September 11, 2017, the day after Hurricane Irma struck Tampa Bay.
Hagan and Raij also texted about:
- Whether then-sheriff David Gee would give up the land the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office was located to trade it with a developer for stadium land;
- Coordinating Hagan’s travel and tickets to the Braves’ new stadium outside Atlanta in July, plans the Rays were apparently involved in too;
- A “marked up Rays’ document” in November 2017, suggesting there were additional documents Hagan had access to. However, when those documents were requested, Hagan said none exist.
- Feeding misleading rumors to local reporters about land targets in order to leverage small landowners in Ybor City into signing option agreements.
To put it simply, Hagan hid public records and worked with a private developer, who was able to scoop up valuable property at a discounted rate. Hagan later received campaign donations from that developer, who stood to benefit from the closed door dealings.
It is currently unclear whether Hagan violated sunshine laws by using outside counsel to negotiate ballpark terms with Scaglione, whom he serves alongside on the Tampa Sports Authority board. It, however, is believed that ethical lines have been crossed while legal lines, in the very least, have been blurred by Hagan in his quest to secure a stadium deal. Should law enforcement find evidence of a quid pro quo where favors were exchanged, criminal corruption charges could follow.
This is not the first time that Hagan has been mired in controversy. Aside from his secretive handling of stadium negotiations, Hagan was implicated in using the same tactics in order to close a 2013 deal which brought Bass Pro Shops to Hillsborough County.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman called for Hagan to step away from his involvement Monday afternoon.
City council and I have worked hard to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay, whether in St. Pete or Tampa. Ken Hagen’s actions continue to erode the public’s trust of this process & impede that goal. For the good of our region, he should step away from further involvement with this issue. https://t.co/T50YFJLv4z
— Rick Kriseman (@Kriseman) November 19, 2018
The report follows another over how Hillsborough County and the Rays might attempt to publicly fund the project … although after 1,054 days (and just 41 days remaining) the likelihood of a deal getting done before the New Years Eve deadline is slim to none, barring a December miracle.