The reactions to the Tampa Bay Rays stadium announcement on Tuesday have ranged from positive and enthusiastic, to skeptical, lukewarm and disapproving. While the plans themselves paint the picture of an innovative and ambitious community center-cum-stadium, the $892-million price tag is proving to be a non-starter for many who feel as though they are doomed for the coal pit, much like those who live four-and-one-half hours south of the greater Tampa Bay area. Paging Jeffrey Loria.
Here are what a few writers and reporters are saying about the stadium renderings.
Ray Roa of Creative Loafing
Moments after the press conference, Ray Roa (Creative Loafing Tampa) gave his account of the meeting. While most of the article is a standard account of the meeting, Roa brought up a point that likely slipped beneath the radar of stadium proponents and opponents alike.
What no one in the press conference really talked about was the way that Ybor’s ongoing, seemingly inevitable, transformation will change the lives of business owners who don’t own the titles of the buildings they operate out of, writes Roa. The district has already seen the extermination of beloved establishments like Czar (future home of a boutique hotel) and long-running music venue New World Brewery (bulldozed to make way for condos), and as property values rise the question about what’s authentically Ybor continues to come up. Is it the coffee shops? Cigar joints? Live music venues? What happens when landlords cash out and more beloved Ybor City haunts have to find new homes?
Granted the punk/alternative/whatever music community is not something that most people care about, however, Roa intimated the specters the “G word,” gentrification. If the segment by WTSP 10 News (below)speaks to anything, the potential of a stadium has already spurred investors into action before a funding plan has even come to fruition.
To be clear, redevelopment is not a bad thing, nor is attempting to clean up neighborhoods. But doing so in an unsustainable manner, at the expense of the marginalized as well as small business owners, tends to benefit the investors most. It wipes the slate of a historically diverse community, not to mention the local flavor and authenticity that was so attractive to the team in the first place.
Furthermore, while the geographic region will survive, people’s access to it — by way of affordable housing or the ability to live without excessive taxes and fees — will be limited. People in a lower economic bracket, who live in and around the proposed stadium site, will undoubtedly be priced out out of their homes. Ticket prices also will increase, limiting those who can attend ball games.
It happened in St. Petersburg when Tropicana Field (then the Pinellas Suncoast Dome) was constructed almost 30 years ago, something that is just now being addressed. For current precedent, one need only to look at Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights, or Central Avenue — from the water to the Grand Central District (in St. Petersburg) — as proof. Countless families have been priced out of their homes in those areas, while business owners have been forced to move to more affordable locations in the name of progress.
More directly, the Tampa Park Apartments, just stones throw from the proposed stadium site, is on the verge of losing HUD funding. Land developers are already licking their chops to build bars, restaurants, and housing.
The federal government has now come to the same conclusion after a recent inspection found other units with infestations, damaged doors and windows that don’t open, writes Christopher O’Donnell (Tampa Bay Times). It is the fourth time the privately-owned complex has failed an inspection in the past four years.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, this week sent letters to about 170 families informing them they will be moved out of the complex and into Section 8 housing beginning in August. It also informed the owners that it will no longer subsidize rents in more than half of the complex’s roughly 370 apartments.
That could jeopardize its future. More than half of its occupants receive subsidies worth up to two-thirds of their rent. Now it will have to attract many more families willing and able to afford the full rent.
The loss of those tenants may also reignite speculation about the 23-acre property once touted as a potential site for a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark. Nestled between Ybor City and downtown Tampa, it is barely a home run away from the site the Rays eventually chose, which could entice developers looking to build bars, restaurants and residential development to cater to fans.
While the Tampa Housing Authority maintains the families that currently live in the Tampa Park Apartments will end up in better housing, O’Donnell writes of an Eats Tampa activist named Connie Burton, who is skeptical.
HUD’s decision could result in the loss of one of the few places where low-income families can live close to downtown, Burton said.
“If they lose half of their subsidy now it becomes a financial drain on the owner,” she said. “That will force the hand of the owner to eventually sell.”
Burton noted that several Tampa redevelopment projects have meant thousands of residents, mostly poor and black, have been moved farther away from downtown and from jobs.
“Most of those people, if they can find housing in the city, it won’t be affordable,” Burton said. “Where will all these people go?”
Yes, “blighted areas” need to be addressed, but only in a way that gives the inhabitants of those areas a stab at reaping the sustainable economic growth. An increased tax base, as well as other undesirable effects of rapid redevelopment, will have the opposite effect on the neighborhood the team hopes to bolster with its presence.
Joe Henderson of the Tampa Bay Times
Moving on, Joe Henderson (Tampa Bay Times) wrote an article titled Road to new Rays stadium will be a wild ride, where he opines that despite the monumental feat ahead of them over the next 5-1/2 months, that a stadium deal will be completed is an inevitability. On the surface the story appears to be an innocuous rallying cry for champions of the effort to build a stadium, yet beneath the surface it reads, at times, like brazen advocacy for a deal on the backs of taxpayers.
The Tampa Bay Times also explicitly stated that taxpayers should be on the hook for a new stadium in an opinion piece published Thursday.
Jon Taylor of Sports Illustrated
Finally, in an article dubbed The Rays’ Proposed New Stadium Looks Beautiful, But Who Is Going to Pay for It?, Jon Taylor (Sports Illustrated) argues that while most can agree that the Rays need a new stadium, the new proposal is a great start, but the public should not foot the bill. As Taylor writes,
…There’s only one problem with that vision: Nobody knows who’s going to pay for it.
That’s going to be the question hanging over the franchise as it seeks to go from the old and unpleasant Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg to a gleaming new edifice in Ybor City in downtown Tampa. But with a potential price tag of nearly a billion dollars, at least some of the cost of that relocation will fall on the residents of Tampa—unfairly, undeservedly and, if it comes to pass, disastrously so.
This is a battle that’s played out repeatedly over the last decade, and one that cities don’t win. Just in that span, taxpayers in Washington, D.C., New York (twice), Minneapolis, Miami and Atlanta have forked over hundreds of millions of dollars through deals made by local governments in exchange for ballparks. Money that could have been spent on improving local infrastructure or better salaries for civil servants instead went to franchises worth billions and their absurdly rich owners, all of whom cried poor when the time came to pay.
Will Tampa be next? While nothing is set in stone with regards to the Ybor City stadium, the estimated cost of building it—featuring a translucent roof and sliding glass walls but also the fewest seats of any in the majors—sits at $892 million. But as Rays team president Brian Auld told reporters at Tuesday’s event when asked about who would be on the hook for that, “We don’t have those answers yet.”
The math is inescapably bad for Tampa. The Rays have previously said that they will contribute somewhere from $150–400 million on their own, depending on whether they can secure naming rights to the stadium. The team and city hope to get a large chunk of money from private financing and local businesses. But even if the city’s resident plutocrats open their wallets, that option is unlikely to bring in more than a few hundred million.
That leaves Hillsborough County responsible for the rest—maybe as much as half a billion dollars. That will be asked of government already trying to trim its budget for 2019 and which needs money for its transportation and education departments; the latter is looking at spending cuts of upwards of $31 million in the coming year. Tampa can’t count on Florida for assistance either. The state legislature has repeatedly stated its opposition to spending public money on stadiums after the fiasco that was Marlins Park, which will cost Miami north of a billion dollars over the next 30 years thanks to the horrendous deal the city and county negotiated with the duplicitous Jeffrey Loria.
Taylor did leave out a few crucial points worth considering:
1. The stadium proposal will not go to a referendum vote in the waning 5-1/2 months left in the MOU search window. Like it or not, Hillsborough County citizens will not get the opportunity to vote on the $892-milllion stadium proposal between now and December 31 at 11:59 PM. Are you an admirer of the plan and want to voice your support? Are you like the council members and commissioners who are opposed to using public subsidies for a stadium (Mayor Buckhorn as well)? Now would be a good time to reach out to City Hall and the Hillsborough County Commission and let them know how you feel.
2. On Wednesday, Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg told the editorial staff of the Tampa Bay Times that he would be willing to contribute more money to the stadium project — largely dependent upon how much private money is thrown toward the project, or how much money the team could net from a naming rights deal — but not in multiples of $150-million. In other words, he could commit somewhere between $150-million and $299-million toward the project, putting Tampa on the hook for at least $593-million (not including the costs associated with moving a TECO power substation, or the money the team would owe to the City of St. Petersburg for breaking the lease before 2027, as well as the cost of demolishing Tropicana Field).
3. According to the terms of the MOU between the City of St. Petersburg and the team, which gave them three years to search Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for a new stadium site, the Rays have until 11:59 PM on December 31, 2018 to hammer out a deal, including a funding apparatus. If you’re counting, that’s roughly 5-1/2 months to come up with at least $593-million before the MOU window turns into a glass slipper.
4. According to the terms of the use agreement, should the City of St. Petersburg redevelop Tropicana Field site (read: that is in the works) while the Rays call it home, the team and city will split the development rights 50/50. The City of St. Petersburg has already pitched a stadium deal to the team and has money to fund the project, whereas the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County do not, meaning at least $300-million would be placed on the shoulders of the taxpayers — assuming the Rays cover at least $250-million, and private investors cover multiple hundreds of millions (read: they won’t). Since the City of St. Petersburg has already drafted a masterplan for the Tropicana Field property, with a new stadium proposed in the northeastern corner of the property, it is is currently developing an alternate masterplan without the team. The plan is to redevelop the property, which has been appraised at $1-billion, with or without them.