Stalemate Continues Between Rays and St. Pete on Stadium…Let’s go to Court!
The St. Pete City Council failed today to approve an amendment to the city’s use agreement that would allow the Rays to explore other stadium options in the Carillon area and Hillsborough County. By a vote of 4-4 the council whiffed at a belt-high fastball chance of ending this ridiculous stadium stalemate between the Rays and the City of St. Pete. Frankly, watching the Mayor and Council debate today was like watching a bunch of whiny children try to protect their Goldfish at snack time. While some members are willing to share in the spirit of community others try and hoard their little pile in hopes they will preserve what precious little they have left. Keep in mind, this amendment would not allow the Rays to move anywhere or even enter into negotiations with another city or developer. It would merely allow the Rays and other public/private entities the opportunity to discuss stadium options without fear of legal Armageddon.
Today Mayor Bill Foster even admitted that the amendment was a ” thoughtful, reasonable approach” but then retreated into his usual legal bunker admonishing the council it “could” weaken the city’s legal standing if and when the Rays take this fight to court. Of course the chance of this fight ending up in court is as certain as the Rays getting less than 8 thousand fans on a Monday night against the Royals. It’s a lead pipe lock. So whatever devious plan Darth Sternberg has up his sleeve he might as well draw his lightsaber and get on with it. It’s apparent Mayor Foster is going to take this fight to his political grave. Honestly, as an elected representative of the people of St. Pete, Foster has a fiduciary responsibility to extract as much cash out of the Rays as he possibly can before they leave…and they will leave. But does that help keep the Rays in Tampa Bay? No…it just drives them closer to Brooklyn, Charlotte, San Antonio…insert progressive, economically thriving, baseball thirsty market here.
None of this is good for Rays fans or the organization. As was mentioned today in the council meeting, this nasty discussion doesn’t make fans want to support the Rays more. It makes more enemies. The Rays and owner Stuart Sternberg have not exactly helped the situation by sitting on the bench and pouting the last few years. They have not meaningfully engaged in the dialogue until just recently when President Matt Silverman told the Tampa Bay Times they would agree to the amendment if passed. Sadly, some of the council members didn’t even know that! Do your homework people and pick up a paper! Or perhaps the Rays should have been there Thursday to inform the council and at least try and help the process along. If you want to end the stalemate…why don’t you show up and state your case!
I know the Mayor to be a good and honorable man who does not want the Rays to leave Tampa Bay but protecting St. Pete’s economic backside is making him look like an obstructionist. Even the voters of St. Pete, who have no desire to fund a new stadium, are getting tired of this fight. Both sides need to focus on solutions, not gaining the legal high ground. Foster said today he is “all for finding ways to break the stalemate” but he can’t even lead the way on allowing a city attorney to further study the legal ramifications of this amendment. He pushed for voting it down based on the “possibility” it “could weaken” the city’s legal position. This was proposed weeks ago…and the attorney’s haven’t even studied the legal implications yet? What…were they busy studying the new controversial public toilet budget allocation?
This is what passes for political action these days. Everyone is protecting their special interest and nobody is thinking of the greater community good. That’s why nothing gets done in Washington or in St. Pete with the Rays. As Mayor Foster admonished the Council today “ The Rays are listening to their attorney’s, you better listen to yours”...even though the attorney’s hadn’t studied the actual amendment! One dissenting councilman even pushed for an ABC coalition type discussion and fact-finding study be done by the Council! Hey genius…it’s already been studied by every chamber of commerce and regional task force known to mankind…and they all come up with the same conclusion. The Trop is already obsolete and the downtown St. Pete location barely beats Damascus when a comparative study is done! What we don’t need is more talk and more study! Both sides need to get in a room, without lawyers, and reach an agreement to allow the Rays to study all options. Once all plans are on the table, complete with financing options and demographic studies, I think the choice will be clear.
The ABC Coalition, other regional task forces and noted baseball economist Andrew Zimbalist all point toward Downtown Tampa.
“Downtown Tampa. It's very important in today's economics that stadiums be located as close to a business district as possible — particularly baseball, that can play six or 7 games a week. It enables the team to attract members of the business community to the stadium at the end of the work day and sell season tickets and premium seating.” Zimbalist said.
“Fans are of a higher economic demographic, so signage and corporate sponsorship becomes more valuable. You can create synergies with other businesses. You might have a tax increment financing district or tax abatement for a vibrant entertainment district.”
The studies concluded that Downtown Tampa offers a bigger population (over 100K more) within a 30 minute drive than Carillon. Using detailed demographic studies they concluded there are 129,461 potential season ticket holders near Downtown Tampa compared to only 55,595 near the Carillon location! Future growth points East of Tampa not West of Carillon unless you believe that whole Waterworld scenario! That’s why MLB wants a Tampa based stadium. Trust me…they don’t want to lose the 13th largest TV market in the country that has the 5th highest TV ratings in baseball.
Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commission Chair Ken Hagan have both stated on my radio show that a public vote would not be needed to fund a stadium in Tampa. I also have spoken to numerous private business entities that have economic interest and property in Downtown Tampa that would invest in the stadium project. The LeClair project in Carillon looks great but he has offered no funding plan for the stadium. It’s clear from the polls conducted by the Times that only 19% of Pinellas voters would vote for public expenditure for a stadium. Foster knows he can’t build a new stadium in Pinellas so his only play is to force the Rays to stay at the Trop till 2027. That won’t happen.
I say let the legal fight begin and have a judge tell the Rays what it will cost to break the use agreement and get some cost certainty to their future. That would also allow them to spend more on payroll and stay competitive in the coming years, which is essential to keeping the public interest. This dysfunctional stalemate is poisoning the Rays water on both sides of the Bay. Fans are tired of hearing about it so let’s get into the courtroom sooner than later. The City Council playpen squabbling is proof positive that it’s not going to get solved any other way.
Sports Radio Personality, Emmy winner, founder of Tampa Bay Sports Central.