You likely heard the news already, on the 10th of July, the Tampa Bay Rays are slated to publicly reveal the artist renderings of a potential stadium in Ybor City.
All along the team’s lofty goal has been to build a facility that will double as a community destination beyond game days. Some ideas thrown out by Rays President Brian Auld include a fitness center/wellness program for USF, kitchens that offer culinary classes, and a part-time community park.
The renderings should answer a bevy of questions, like will the roof be retractable or translucent? Will there be an upper deck? How many fans will the stadium accommodate? And where will home plate be situated?
Yet According to Chris O’Donnell (Tampa Bay Times), one crucial aspect of the stadium likely will not be on the agenda, a discussion about how to fund the project.
…But no matter how innovative and appealing the design, Hagan and other local leaders still face an uphill task to figure out how to pay for a stadium, a cost estimated at around $800 million.
The Rays have yet to officially disclose how much they would be willing to pay. Both Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn have said raising taxes is not an option, although money set aside for community improvement projects could be used for utility lines and road realignment to support a ballpark. Profits from surrounding development may also be part of the financing plan.
That makes it even more vital to get corporate support — a pitch that will be easier to make now that the ballpark is more than an abstract concept, Hagan said.
To put it another way, the public unveiling is more about getting fans excited about the design the team has been working on for a few years — a campaign to whet the public’s whistle for a stadium that, well, nobody frankly wants to pay for … the team included.
They’re working hard, Ken Hagan (Hillsborough County Commission) was quoted as saying. This will be another tool to allow them to galvanize that support.
The Rays have been hush-hush about the project, even with public officials who will ultimately decide on the fate of the project.
Hagan said no one outside the team has seen the renderings yet, writes O’Donnell.
“I know the team has put a lot of work into the design,” Hagan said, “and I’m excited to see it.”
That previously did not set well with members of the Tampa City Council.
The Rays got permission to search for a stadium site in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties — outside of their current location at in downtown St. Petersburg — in January of 2016. However, they have until December 31, 2018 to come to a conclusion on a stadium, including a funding apparatus, before the memorandum of understanding between the team and the city of St. Petersburg expires. If you’re counting down, that’s less than six months away.
Noah Pransky (Shadow of the Stadium, WTSP) offered a succinct preview of the upcoming presser in a rather wordy (you millennials would call it “epic”) Twitter debate with JP Peterson (WDAE) on Thursday.
- Rays have thought of everything and they think their renderings are awesome.
- Pics took politicians’ breath away – they love them.
- But a lot of work lies ahead – they need businesses and the community to step up with money if this is going to happen.
Show me the money
Hillsborough County officials have said that an Ybor City ball park will likely cost upwards of $650-million, while Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg has said the team will kick in around $150-million for the project. Sternberg later said the team would possibly contribute more if it gets lucrative naming rights deals or other benefits. But don’t expect a naming rights deal to benefit the taxpayers. As Pransky wrote in a piece for Shadow of the Stadium, “…Teams are quick to insist these are their revenues, contributing to their bottom line; not the public’s portion of stadium bills.”
It remains unclear where the funding would come from since Hillsborough County has little available revenue, and most county commissioners appear hesitant to prioritize a new stadium over other pressing public needs such as infrastructure, waste water management systems, public schools, etc.
A potential piece of the funding puzzle is back on the table after Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s administration persuaded federal officials to put an Ybor City census tract on the list for a new federal tax break, which was created through the President’s tax-cut legislation late last year.
The designation allows developers and investors within the zone to delay tax payments on profits from the sale of real estate and other investments if that money is rolled into Ybor City. Since there isn’t an appetite to fund the stadium project, Hillsborough County officials said that private investment will be crucial.
City officials argued that the tract of land has the potential to generate hundreds more jobs.
Private investment was a financial building block in the deal to develop Sun Trust Park for the Atlanta Braves, the newest major-league ballpark.
Battery Atlanta, an office, residential and entertainment complex, was built at a cost of about $400 million adjacent to the ballpark in suburban Cobb County, writes Charlie Frago (Tampa Bay Times). Revenue from the complex helps the team pay off construction bonds on the stadium.
Whether or not the Atlanta project serves as a model for the Rays, the federal action means Ybor City benefits either way.
“I don’t know if it necessarily ties into a ballpark or not,” McDonaugh said, “but it is an area that we recognized could benefit from redevelopment.”
The federal tax break probably won’t help out whole a lot though, especially when you consider that large corporations — who the Rays and Hillsborough County are depending upon — likely wouldn’t move within the vicinity of the proposed stadium just because of baseball.
The stadium project meets opposition
The effort to gain the federal tax break poked the proverbial hornet’s nest. On Thursday, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a Koch Brothers funded group, issued a news release criticizing Buckhorn’s advocacy to have an Ybor City census tract made eligible for the federal tax break.
The only ones who will benefit from this lopsided deal are crony politicians and the Rays’ ownership. The audacity of the team to insist that they will only pay for $150 million of a potentially $800 million project is emblematic of the entitled mentality that drives these corporate welfare schemes. Taxpayers deserve better,” the release stated.
AFP most recently defeated a transit initiative in Nashville.
The opposition to the stadium is much larger than previously thought, not just those that want to see the team stay in St. Petersburg, or those who think a publicly subsidized stadium isn’t the best use of taxpayer money.
I tend to leave my opinions out of these types of articles, although I will say that while I am not a fan of AFP or the Koch Brothers, I am a huge fan of irony. And in the end, AFP is criticizing the mayor of Tampa, as well as the corporate bought Ken Hagan, for utilizing the infrastructure set in place by the Koch Brothers endowed president and House of Representatives. I digress.
— Noah Pransky jumped spoke with “Wacky” Jack Harris (AM Tampa Bay) Monday morning about the stadium funding issue, and whether Jeff Vinik might play a role in building the Rays a stadium (Hint: Tampa doesn’t have the money, and Vinik has no interest in helping the Rays).
— Joe Henderson (Florida Politics) writes,
The Tampa Bay Rays know how to put on a show, and I’m positive there will be no shortage of “oohs” and “aahs” Tuesday when they roll out the design and, importantly, a cost projection for what they hope is a new stadium in Ybor City.
However, he summarizes things to a T with the following pull quote,
(Opponents) will stand in the courthouse door to keep one cent of public money from going to this project. Lots of people will agree with them, which is a big reason stadium advocates must be transparent about money every step of the way.
One hint of an end run designed to soak the public could sink this thing.
Yes, Tuesday is a big day in this quest – but the bigger day comes when the plan to pay for whatever the stadium will cost becomes public.