John Romano: Is it possible that the new favorite for a Rays stadium is the same old site? | Sports
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Here, on the edge of a city’s future, they sell Cracker Jack.
There is music, laughter and sometimes a passing mascot. The future is expensive, controversial and entirely uncertain, yet the atmosphere is festive and the hot dogs are sizzling.
Sitting in the middle of it all at club level at Tropicana Field on Friday night is the man tasked with delivering that future. He wears a replica Rays jersey and a disarming look of assurance.
Tampa is undoubtedly the team’s preferred site for a new stadium, and other cities across the country are bracing for the possibility of the Rays being free agents when the Tropicana lease expires after 2027.
So what about it, Mayor Ken Welch, aren’t you worried about the future of baseball and St. Pete’s status as a major league city?
“I think the problem is solved,” Welch said. “A new stadium of the right size with the right amenities connected to our city center – I always wish it was outdoors, but apparently that’s probably not going to happen – can get us where we need to be. I don’t think we need to be a 30,000-a-night venue.
“That’s why we hired the financial advisor to tell us what finances really look like. How much really comes from TV?
Welch is not the first mayor of St. Petersburg to deal with this issue. Nor is he the second or the third. The Rays Stadium saga spans decades and bridges and, as far as audiences can see, is no closer to being resolved than it was in 2007 when owner Stu Sternberg suggested a location by the water.
And yet, behind the scenes, there is a feeling that the pendulum might be swinging back in St. Pete’s direction. Or, at least, in the middle.
The fundamental issues haven’t changed – St. there is a simple and logical way. .
St. Petersburg has the land, it has a funding mechanism with the Pinellas County tourist tax, and it has a growing and affluent population emerging around the current site of Tropicana Field.
There’s no amount of spin that can erase St. Pete’s disappointing support at the box office, but the combination of using the team’s contract windfall from the Too much site redevelopment and the opportunity to transform 86 acres of land in a similar destination location in Atlanta’s Battery district might — begrudgingly — be enough to convince the Rays they won’t find a better deal elsewhere.
“(The Braves) have agreements with the development rights and the commercial space around it, I still have to dig into the details, but that’s what our consultants will do,” Welch said. “Give us the different models that we can use – and I’ll just throw out a number – so we can find $600 million, half of a $1.2 billion facility.
“It’s more than a stadium because it will have multiple uses. How does this relate to a conference center and meeting spaces? I just think if we’re creative and innovative, we have so many drivers behind us, and growth is happening, that we can be successful.
Meanwhile, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor is pushing for the Rays to choose between Tampa and St. Pete “in a short time” so each city can move forward.
And while the Rays haven’t been shy about wanting to move closer to the geographic/economic center of the region, they haven’t come close to finding the funding for a full-season stadium in Tampa. They started looking at Ybor City in 2015 but ended talks in 2018 when they couldn’t agree on funding for an $892million stadium.
The split-city stadium plan at Ybor was a smaller project with no roof, and the cost would have been closer to $700 million.
But now that MLB has canceled the sister city plan with Montreal, the Rays say a roof is needed if they want to play in the heat and rain of the summer months. Even though it is a fixed roof, as opposed to a more expensive retractable model, the cost will reach $1 billion.
At this point, there seems to be little appetite in Tampa/Hillsborough to make a deal for that much money.
“There comes a time when it’s too much,” Welch conceded. “But first we have to see what the total price is and what they will contribute to it. I’ve always said at least 50/50. And then see what our revenue streams can produce to solve X. Now we know that if we bond a penny tax on (hotel) beds, that’s $200-250 million. And we know there are other mechanisms you can use: development rights, maybe a TIF (tax increment financing), naming rights are in there. We are solving our half of the equation, and I think we can do it.
“You can’t take the taxes that pay the cops on the street and use them to pay for baseball. That’s why we’re limited to the tourist development tax, which pays for exactly that sort of thing.
For years, politicians around the country have cited an iconic line from the movie “Field of Dreams” as the justification for continuing to build a stadium. In St. Pete, they could take another line in Hollywood.
There is no place like home.