TAMPA, Fla. -- The pretty pictures, the flashbulbs, the big price tag; there weren’t many surprises at Tuesday’s press conference unveiling designs for a proposed new Ybor City ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays. But there were some interesting takeaways from the $892 million proposal, now that we’re roughly 10 years into the Stadium Saga (and 9.5 years from the end of the Rays’ contract at the Trop).
1) The price is going to have to come down
Rays owner Stu Sternberg likely knows $600-700 million in public money for a new Tampa stadium is a non-starter. And since the team still won’t say how much it will contribute toward that $892 million price tag, the Rays are still playing negotiating shenanigans.
In the words of stadium journalist Neil deMause, “So we are supposed to believe that the owner of a pro sports team, who for years has been demanding a new stadium as a way of improving his bottom line, went into designing and pricing out a new stadium with no thoughts at all of how it would be paid for or whether it would make money?”
That led Tampa Mayor Buckhorn to very frankly call the stadium a big “want,” not a “need.”
Similarly, while there is no expensive retractable roof, there is a retractable wall that may also be more of a “want” than a “need.” So even though Sternberg said these designs were the “Buick model,” not the “Cadillac”, it seems clear if he is serious about a new Tampa stadium, he’ll have to make a number of concessions.
It’s another reminder, that after a decade of talk about location…as WTSP first started reporting in 2010, the hopes of a new stadium revolved around one thing – not location – but money.
2) Redefining “infrastructure” and “community asset”
Hillsborough County politicians have started to morph from stances of “no public dollars” for a Rays stadium to “only money for infrastructure.”
That’s led the Rays to start treating things like a parking garage and pedestrian bridge to get people to their stadium as $83 million in "necessary infrastructure improvements.”
But it also has the team acting like the ballpark is a “community asset” the same way any other public park is. Except, when there’s a big event at Curtis Hixson Park in Tampa, private companies pay the city a fee to use it.
And also, city parks don’t cost $892 million. In fact, there was great controversy in Tampa when the city just opened Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park. Criticized as excess, the year-round waterfront park cost a whopping $35 million.
3) Are the Rays trying to leverage St. Pete?
The Rays agreed to a deal with St. Petersburg in Jan. 2016 to take no more than three years to explore sites in Hillsborough, then give a final answer so St. Pete can move on and redevelop the valuable Tropicana Field site.
Except, with fewer than six months left on the window, the Rays don’t seem to be treating it like a real deadline. Do they expect an extension? St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman wasn’t excited about that potential.
As 10Investigates reported Monday, St. Pete is anxious to start redeveloping land that’s likely worth hundreds of millions of dollars – with or without the Rays. If the Rays stay in St. Pete, they get 50% of all those revenues for as long as they stay. If they leave for Tampa, they agree to forgo all that free cash.
But when 10Investigates asked Sternberg if he was prepared to give up all that money if a deal can be worked out in Tampa, he said “I haven’t thought past all that.” Basically, he wouldn’t acknowledge what the team had already agreed to on-paper.
Are the Rays angling to get St. Pete to contribute downtown development dollars to help the team pack up and build a new home in Tampa?!?
4) Who has the leverage here?
Read any local columnist today, and you’ll be reminded about how the region could regret not accommodating the Rays.
“Major League Baseball is an exclusive business,” wrote the Tampa Bay Times’ John Romano. “Membership typically comes at a high price. Tampa Bay now has a better idea of that price, and must decide whether it wants to pay.”
So even though the team is very, very profitable, itl makes no sense for them to pay for construction when new stadium won’t bring in that much in new revenue.
But ask any politician, such as Mayor Buckhorn, and they’ll tell you Tampa will thrive with or without the Rays and its not worth mortgaging the city’s future. Mayor Kriseman has said the same for St. Pete.
So who holds the cards here?
5) That design
That glass roof; that sliding wall; those intimate seats – impressive, for sure. But those things have also created bird death traps in other cities.
More importantly, does it fit the “vibe” of Ybor City? One influential Ybor booster said before yesterday’s unveiling, “if its glass and not brick, I’ll be booing.”
Didn’t hear any booing at the big event, but there isn’t a whole lot of brick, either.
Then again, materials probably don’t matter to the Ybor businesses looking to capitalize on a possible $892 stimulus project.
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