In the midst of what has been a slow off-season, news leaked from a multiple local sources that the Tampa Bay Rays are expected to make their decision on a new stadium site within the next three weeks.
According to an article from the Tampa Bay Business Journal (paid link), Ron Christaldi — a Tampa attorney associated with the stadium dealings — indicated that team presidents Brian Auld, Matt Silverman, and principal owner Stuart Sternberg are prepared to move forward with the site in the Ybor City district just outside downtown Tampa.
The proclamation comes after what was said to have been a productive dinner with Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan and more importantly Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
Be that as it may, considerable roadblocks associated with the Ybor City site remain, including (but not limited to) the assemblage of funds to cover the cost of such a project, as well as the involvement of the Tampa Bay business community — or lack thereof.
Back in November, Sternberg suggested that, based on initial projections, the team might only cover $150-million of the estimated $800-million cost — just under 19% of the total cost. That number was also bandied about in 2008 when the Rays sought out a waterfront stadium in St. Petersburg.
I would say our contribution could be largely based on the support that gets drummed up by specific municipalities or groups and us as well, Sternberg said. And if this falls on a lot of deaf ears then I have my answer.
The more likely price tag is around $650-million — accounting for a fixed ETFE roof, as opposed to one that is retractable. Even so, and if Sternberg made a commitment to instead chip in $250-$300-million, we are still talking about a $350-$400-million facility. To put it bluntly, if Hillsborough cannot scare up enough money for things like road and sewer improvements, as well as pay raises for teachers, the likelihood of the county being able to do the same for a baseball stadium is slim at best.
Hagan would have no other choice but to assemble a funding mechanism that leans upon taxpayers to cover the balance. He once was adamant about not giving the Rays a “sweetheart deal” at the taxpayers expense — with reference to the deal the Tampa Bay Buccaneers received for the publicly funded Raymond James Stadium. The commissioner famously said that he did not support “public dollars” for a baseball project in 2010, but changed his tune just four years later, saying he did not support “new” tax dollars for a stadium in 2014, and most recently saying he supported raising hotel taxes – and possibly rental car taxes – but “hopefully” only for infrastructure to support a stadium, writes Noah Pransky (Shadow of the Stadium blog, WTSP).
Sternberg indicated then that the overall price tag could go up or down based on revenue projections, which is where Tampa’s corporate community comes into play.
Rays fans have taken a beating nationally for not supporting a franchise that has a better record than 23 other teams in the last decade but has, at the same time, had the lowest attendance in the big leagues, writes John Romano (Tampa Bay Times).
The truth is, that disparity has had more to do with the business community than everyday fans.
Many teams sell the majority of their tickets before the season’s first pitch is even thrown because businesses buy season ticket packages to entertain clients or to hand out to employees.
That hasn’t been the case in Tampa Bay.
As a tourism-driven economy, we don’t have a lot of corporations. And certainly not a lot surrounding Tropicana Field. And so tickets have been sold, essentially, one at a time to you and your neighbors.
That’s why, when the Rays make their upcoming announcement, it had better include economic commitments from businesses in Hillsborough County.
It appears that the businesse community may be stepping to the plate.
As Danny Russell (DRaysBay) wrote on Wednesday, a non-profit, which would target 215 local business leaders, is being set up by Charles “Chuck” Sykes.
The Tampa Bay Business Journal is reporting that Christaldi, along with Sykes Enterprises CEO Chuck Sykes, is in the process of setting up a nonprofit called Tampa Bay Rays 2020, which has targeted 215 local business leaders to help coordinate the development of land around the Rays stadium site, and to farm pledges for those necessary aforementioned ticket commitments.
The previously rumored non-profit and its leaders are expected to be announced in the next month, and it’s vital that non-profit exist.
However, there is another caveat.
The Rays three-year search window is quickly coming to a close. Per the terms of the memorandum of understanding, that allowed the team to search for a new stadium site, the Rays have just over 11-months to finalize their selection. If Hillsborough County business leaders have not yet cobbled together enough support for the team by now, that task will become increasingly hard over the next 11-months.
In contrast, St. Petersburg — by way of the Baseball Forever campaign — has amassed over 1,000 commitments from the Tampa Bay business community and fans alike; a number that is growing since the campaign is still active.
— X-Rays Spex (@XRaysSpex) January 31, 2018
The team is required to make its decision based solely on what Hillsborough and Pinellas can offer. That is, the Rays are contractually prevented from making a final decision until each county has prepared a deal that includes both reasonable financing to build the stadium (advantage Pinellas), and financial support once it’s built.
It should also be noted that while the announcement of a preferred stadium site is expected, the City of St. Petersburg is still in the stadium sweepstakes, if even as the team’s default site.
An announcement didn’t equal a deal. Tampa doesn’t have the funding, and the Rays don’t yet have the corporate support. Forget not that the A’s *had* a deal in place, and well…
— X-Rays Spex (@XRaysSpex) January 31, 2018
In the end, all that glitters is not gold.
Although a resolution to the Stadium Saga could be on the horizon, the news of the collapse of the Athletics’ plan to build a privately funded stadium near Laney College in Oakland leads one to believe that even presumed certainties are less so. The Athletics had all the things the Rays do not — the site and a funding apparatus — yet a quick resolution to their stadium search has escaped them.
If I’m a betting man, I’m not going to hedge my bets for a quick and painless resolution ahead of the January 2019 deadline, regardless of an official announcement by the team.
Players work out at the Trop
With T-Minus 12-days and counting until pitchers and catchers report to Port Charlotte, the Rays hosted an optional workout at Tropicana Field on Wednesday. In attendance were newcomers Denard Span, Micah Johnson, and Christian Arroyo. The Rays top prospect, Brent Honeywell, was also in attendance.
You can see Will Vragovic’s photo diary of the workout below.