Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tampa Sports Authority Exploring State Stadium Funding for Bucs and/or Rays

With state legislators preparing to debate how to divvy up your tax dollars for pro stadium projects, the officials who operate Raymond James Stadium - and may also play a role in Tampa Bay Rays stadium discussions - are trying to learn more about state financing available for stadium-building.

A consultant for the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA) coordinated a December conference call between the agency's CEO, Eric Hart, and officials from Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). The call was regarding the process for receiving state stadium funds, according to a TSA spokesperson, even though he added few specifics were discussed.

The TSA could request up to $90 million from the state for renovations to Raymond James Stadium, which is approaching 17 years old, or a new pro sports facility in Hillsborough County. Previously, Hillsborough Co. Commissioner Ken Hagan suggested the TSA could take the lead in finding a new home for the Rays in Tampa.

For a renovation - or new construction - project to receive state dollars under a new 2014 law, teams and municipalities must first break ground on the project, then seek reimbursement under a "competitive" process.

The TSA spokesperson said the call was simply informational, with no imminent request expected.

I've spent the last month debunking dubious claims from four pro organizations seeking state tax dollars this year. But the hundreds of millions of dollars they seek are still on the table.

 PREVIOUS COVERAGE:2/19/15 - Jags threaten bad business decisions if state doesn't pay up
2/19/15 - Lawmakers kick can down road again on subsidy decision
2/12/15 -
Conservative group launches anti-stadium subsidy radio ad
2/11/15 - Lobbying ramps up after rankings come in

Kriseman Trying to Count to Five

An old joke in politics is that the most important job of a mayor is to learn how to count.  As in, don't bring something for a city council vote if you don't know you've got the votes to pass it.

In Rick Kriseman's defense, he may have had the five votes necessary to pass December's MOU agreement before one councilman asked an insightful question and Rays President Brian Auld gave a less-than-desirable response.

But Kriseman won't make that mistake again.  According to Charlie Frago at the Tampa Bay Times, Kriseman is meeting with councilmembers privately to see if his newest compromise will be enough to get five of eight necessary votes:
Kriseman and the Rays have agreed on how development rights — which are shared between the city and the team in the contract for Tropicana Field — would play out if the Rays leave the Trop before the contract's expiration in 2027, Kirby said.
...
Council member Darden Rice said Kriseman has described the new deal to her.

"Predictably, it clarifies the intention is not to do that (allow the Rays to profit), but that the city couldn't just go ahead with a new project and impede baseball traffic or crimp parking," Rice said.

But it's not apparent that development rights are still the main obstacle.

"If that were the reason, I'm optimistic," council Chairman Charlie Gerdes said. "But then Coach (Bill Dudley) said he wanted a shorter search. That's a new wrinkle to me."
Last week, Dudley told the Times that the team should have 18 months — not three years— to find a new site.

Sternberg also said no Rays officials would be present at the next vote.

Kirby declined to comment when asked if that made Kriseman's task tougher, but Rice said she understood Sternberg's logic.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Food for Thought: Are St. Pete Officials Any More "Selfish" Than Hillsborough's?

This morning in the Trib, a Hillsborough Co. man wrote a letter to the editor suggesting St. Pete's council was "selfish" for looking out for its constituents and the members needed to "grow up."

His sentiments echo frequent Hillsborough feedback on this blog that St. Pete's elected officials are a joke

But Hillsborough fans don't typically realize they're asking St. Pete to make a financial concession to the Rays for the betterment of the Tampa Bay region.

So I pose this hypothetical: if the Rays determined the best place for a future stadium - because of land and financing - was on the Pinellas side of the Howard Frankland Bridge, would Hillsborough County residents be willing to contribute tax dollars toward it?

Some Hillsborough County Commissioners are already on-the-record against a multi-county tax, so maybe it's not that unusual for elected officials to balk at making financial concessions for a facility on the other side of the Bay...even if it is in the "region's" interests?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Times Ed Board: Sternberg Wrong to Hate on St. Pete Council...That's Our Job!

A rare Tampa Bay Times editorial criticizing Rays' owner Stu Sternberg suggests he's right on most Stadium Saga issues...but he's wrong to keep staff from attending more St. Pete council meetings:
[I]t could take about five years to identify a site, arrange financing and build a stadium. Yet some council members still fail to grasp that the more time passes without an agreement to let the Rays look for a new home, the less negotiating leverage the city has in seeking payments for leaving early and the longer the city has to wait to redevelop the site.

While Sternberg's substantive points are fair and reasonable, his lack of appreciation for local politics and community sensibilities undercuts his message. Council members already are sensitive about being taken for granted and put off by a perceived air of superiority from a wealthy team owner who lives in New York. Refusing to talk to them at a public meeting does not help, particularly when some former elected officials and community activists urge council members to reject any deal with the Rays.
OK, so this is more of a backhanded compliment suggestion aimed at St. Pete's council.  The Times continues on to suggest those hesitant elected officials should quickly move to approve whatever Mayor Kriseman negotiates next with the team.  But if council has questions of the Rays...it looks like they won't have anyone from the team to ask.

A brief history of Times editorials on the Stadium Saga: 
The history goes further back than that, but for a good synopsis, watch my 2010 piece on newspapers cheerleading for new stadium projects.

Manfred Still Upbeat About Rays' Stadium Saga

From the NY Daily News' interview with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, which they labeled "exclusive"...even though he's already done a number of other one-on-one interviews:
I feel positive about the Tampa Bay situation because I see stadium issues as fundamentally club, local issues and Mr. Sternberg has reiterated his desire and belief he can reach an acceptable solution in Tampa. I’ve had a lot of communication with Mr. Sternberg and what’s important is that Stu is committed to staying in Tampa and he is confident he’ll be able to. Regarding the A’s situation in Oakland, two points: One, it’s important to note the long history of franchise stability that has served this institution well. Communities make huge commitments to teams — in the case of the A’s, we’re talking about 47 years in Oakland — and baseball has had a natural reluctance to leave cities with that kind of history. Two, San Jose is complicated by ongoing litigation that was commenced by the city (the city of San Jose is suing baseball under anti-trust laws). Most good lawyers will tell you that litigation has a natural effect of slowing the process down, but that was their choice, not ours. I think the A’s need a new facility and it remains a priority of mine to get both clubs into facilities. I think because of geographic and political differences, the situation with the A’s is more challenging.
Somewhat encouraging news for Tampa Bay fans at least?

Why Sternberg's "2022" Deadline Comment Means Nothing

Stu Sternberg tells reporters he's going to look for new stadium sites by 2022, with or without St. Pete's blessing.  But:
All Sternberg said is - sometime in the next seven years - he'll need to start looking at 2028 stadium options.  Which is no surprise, given the team's current contract with St. Pete prohibits the Rays from exploring any move prior to 2028.

So in short: Sternberg said he'd continue to honor the team's business deal and will spend the next seven years if necessary trying to improve it.  At least that's better than his previously-mentioned alternative.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

St. Pete Councilman Poses Sobering Questions on Stadium Saga

Good story over on SaintPetersblog about a St. Pete councilman who doesn't always speak up...but when he does, it's worth listening to.  Excerpts from the story on Karl Nurse and funding a new Rays stadium:
“As you begin to piece together, well if you continue the six million a year the city’s been paying for debt service …. 2 million a year from the state …” Nurse trailed off. There’s also the county’s tourist tax kicked in for Tropicana Field. “That now gets you, perhaps, 40-50 percent the way toward a stadium.”
It's actually 3 million a year now from the state, thanks to Pinellas lawmaker Jack Latvala.  And we're talking about enough revenue to bond $300+ million in construction...a heck of a lot more than Hillsborough County could piece together right now.  But still several hundred million short of the expected price of a stadium.
“What it really tells you is that you’ve got to find a way to say, the Rays are likely to have to pay a larger share than they have in mind and you’ve got to find someway to bring a developer in there so that whatever you build generates additional revenue that can go towards the stadium,” Nurse said.
...
“All sports teams have vastly overstated their economic impact,” Nurse said. So why not figure out just how much money the Rays make for the city?
...
Nurse said professional sports is not a good community investment, but that doesn’t mean give them the boot.

“Generally communities say this is something they want even if it doesn’t make economic sense,” he said.

But even if the city wants to keep the Rays, and they do, and even if fans want to keep them, they definitely do, it may not matter.

“I think it really depends upon what are either side of the bay willing to pay? Can you bring a third developer in to help facilitate part of the cost,” Nurse asked. “Are the Rays willing to accept the fact that they are located in a growing television market, which, no matter where you put a stadium, is going to be inconvenient for a third or 40 percent of the region?”

He’s not sure that they are.
Good story.  Read the rest here.

What to Read Into Sternberg's Q&A with the Tampa Bay Biz Journal

UPDATE: The Tampa Bay Times' posted its Sternberg story too, where the Rays' owner says team executives will skip St. Pete council meetings from now on after he likened council's actions to a "mob mentality."  He also detailed the need to advance the stadium discussion sometime before 2022, since it will take at least five years to make a new home happen.  Which is no surprise and only supports the theory that the worst-case scenario may be 15 years of inaction...without losing frontrunner status for keeping the Rays here past 2027.

The incomparable Alexis Muellner with the Tampa Bay Business Journal spent 15 minutes with Rays owner Stu Sternberg Saturday at FanFest.  It's a good article worth checking out...but here are a few key excerpts from the Q&A:
TBBJ: There was some interesting reporting in the dailies this week about the economic impact of the Tropicana Field site without the stadium versus the team's impact, and coverage of a council workshop which it's been reported generated a lot of traffic online. A lot of the discussion boils down to the overall value of baseball to a region.

Sternberg: There is a place for sports in an area and culture in an area. I don't know if these things are mutually exclusive but very good metropolitan areas have a lot of different attractions that draw a lot of different people and clearly, for whatever reason – and I happen to be a baseball guy so I believe in the game and what it does – we get a million and a half visitors through the year, through our gates over 80 nights. We get anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 people per night in the area watching our games on TV and spending hours and hours with us. So clearly it has a place in the lives – not of everybody – but certainly not a small minority.

TBBJ: I spent some time with Brian Auld [Rays president] this week for our Executive Files profiles and we talked about retaining the team. He said he talked to a lot of people in Montreal that said when the Expos left, a party of the city's soul left with them.

Sternberg: I'm from Brooklyn and I grew up in Brooklyn. While it has recovered, I was young enough to know. After they left when I was 5 or 6, and able to understand it, the hurt that was there in Brooklyn. That's a team that I think was also, in a lot of ways, not unique, but I don't think there has ever been a team that's reflected its area as much [as the Brooklyn Dodgers].
There is a definite sting to losing a professional team.  It's probably not an economic loss, but an emotional loss...and what's the price on that?
TBBJ: The fact is there is little support for public financing of a stadium right now. What do you say to someone who asks why can't you finance this yourself?

Sternberg: When you boil it down, a new stadium for the sake of having a new stadium is not a reason for having a new stadium. When we came into it, we had the idea that we could look in the area specifically the land and in St. Petersburg downtown and explore that so we started on that track, but we also felt quite frankly, that the area hadn't seen a good product and one to be proud of and if we can instill that pride. So, let's try to make this place [The Trop] great and as good as we can. We put over $20 million bucks in at first. Now it's a while ago. We've continued to make improvements to it and with the idea of, if it can work in here, great, there's no reason for a new stadium. Clearly there is something that is inhibiting people from coming here. We want to explore and try to figure out what that is. Is it in fact the stadium? Is it in fact the location? Is it the fact that is surrounded by parking lots? Is that a plus or a minus? Do we need public transportation? How important is that? Is it important to have multiple restaurants and bars and other entertainment in the area. Those are the kinds of questions or is it in fact, this stadium?
Your honor, let the record show Mr. Sternberg answered a totally different question than was asked of him.  However, he is right that the team's attendance struggles are likely the result of a multitude of issues...issues that he may have underestimated when purchasing the team.
TBBJ: In reality, the fan experience, my experience has been that it is good. It does take an hour to drive home to places like North Hillsborough, or for me, east Pasco County.

Sternberg: Those are the same issues elsewhere in many other areas as well. St. Louis people drive six or eight hours. I'm not saying I would. I was used to taking three subways and a bus to get to where I needed to get. It's all different.
Bingo.  I've written before about Floridians' short tolerance for recreation travel if it doesn't involve football, a beach, or a hunting rifle.  But the Rays' (and Marlins') biggest problems generally revolve around fans' unwillingness to drive more than 30 minutes for a game on a weeknight.  It's not like that in many of the traditional markets.

Sternberg continues to say the widespread market poses a problem more for the potential season-ticket holder than it does the fan who goes to just a few games a year.  He also talks to Muellner about living in NY vs. Fla., and as Sternberg has done in previous one-on-one interviews...he comes across very sincere and well-intentioned.

Click here to read the entire Tampa Bay Business Journal Q&A.

Friday, February 20, 2015

More Fallout From Thursday's St. Pete Rays Stadium Workshop

Yesterday, St. Pete's city council decided yesterday to research building a new Rays stadium downtown {instant reaction here}.  And while the workshop seemed to be largely a waste of time, there were some good discussions brought up about financing a stadium (finally!).

As this blog has long contended, elected leaders have been ignoring the elephant in the room and avoiding discussions about the tax dollars needed for a stadium.  But now, we have almost every St. Pete councilmember on the record saying they don't want to commit any additional tax revenues above what they're already paying for the Trop.

Of course, we've learned the "no tax" promise isn't nearly as ironclad as the team's contract with the Rays.

Nevertheless, there was a lot of attention in this morning's papers about council's believe that they can keep the Rays in St. Pete long-term.

Tampa Tribune columnist Joe Henderson writes it's a foolish belief, comes back to the "location, location, location" problem this blog first delved into back in 2009.  Henderson writes:
For the life of me, I can’t fathom that council members are kicking around an idea to build a new stadium adjacent to the current Trop. They would then develop the property around it with other enticing stuff, like what was supposed to happen nearly 30 years ago when the Trop was just a cataract in an architect’s eye.

I want to scream when I hear that. I want to laugh. But mostly, I want these people to stop wasting time. Building anywhere near the Trop would just extend the Rays’ location problem for another 30 years.
For what it's worth, I also wrote in 2009 that North St. Pete is the most likely landing spot for a new Rays stadium because of the available financing there.

What does Hillsborough Commissioner/stadium supporter Ken Hagan think about it?

“To seriously consider a new stadium at their current location is a recipe for disaster,” he told the Trib.

Over in the pages of the Times, Councilwoman Darden Rice was quoted as saying, "Allowing the Rays the flexibility to look within Tampa Bay is the main way we have of keeping them here beyond 2027...We have got to stop treating the Rays like our prisoner.''

And last, but not least...the Times editorial board got in another shot on St. Pete's council, mocking it for lack of leadership and hesitation to pay more than $6 million/yr for a potential new stadium.

For those of you keeping score at home, that's $180 million over 30 years on top of healthy contributions from the county, state, and presumably the Rays too.

The editorial brings up good points about one city's limited resources in funding a new stadium...but why does the editorial board never bring up the same issue to Tampa taxpayers, who have fewer available dollars to fund a stadium than their counterparts in St. Pete?

Finally, there's this baffling graf from the editorial:
Their lease to play at Tropicana Field expires in 2027, and there will come a time well before then that the team will let the lease expire rather than pay the city to leave a few years early for a new home in Tampa Bay.
If the worst-case scenario is the Rays fulfilling the terms of their use agreement (not a lease) until 2027, doesn't that mean this region has another 5-10 years to figure out a new stadium?


A brief history of Times editorials on the Stadium Saga:
The history goes further back than that, but for a good synopsis, watch my 2010 piece on newspapers cheerleading for new stadium projects.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Jags: We'll Cut Off Nose to Spite Face if State Doesn't Pay Us $30 Million!

The News Service of Florida reports after state legislators kicked the can down the road again on potential 2015 stadium subsidies, one of the suitors, the Jaguars, announced their club renovations were on hold since the team was really, really, really counting on those incentives:
"We won't go forward," (team rep Paul) Harden said. "We'll look for alternative sources, if they're there. This is a publicly owned building. It's the city of Jacksonville's decisions. As far as the football team is concerned, these are the dollars they were planning on spending for the upgrades."
Let's put aside the fact that the Jaguars' club-level seating renovations may not be the kind of tourism-driver Florida taxpayers should expect for their $30 million over 30 years.

And let's also put aside the fact that the team sold naming rights to the renovated club seats this week.  And that those profits will be going to billionaire owner Shahid Khan, not the public.

See, this threatmongering is absurd simply on the fact that the Jaguars' own subsidy application claims the $18 million club upgrade would net the team an additional $2.3 million per year (plus the naming rights).

So, assuming Khan has no trouble financing a construction loan, the Jags could conceivably just pay for the profitable club renovations themselves now and make their investment back in 10-15 years.  The state, however, would need about 200 years to recoup its investment based on its 6% sales tax cut of that "new" revenue.

At the end of the day, we shouldn't believe the Jags' threats.  Teams routinely exaggerate the scary repercussions of not getting state money.  But the truth is, as the Jags proved in 2013 with their scoreboard-replacement and end zone renovation project, pro teams typically just pay for construction themselves when they strike out on a subsidy.  Especially in Florida, where you can always just come back again (2014) and again (2015) asking for those dollars.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE:
2/19/15 - Lawmakers kick can down road again on subsidy decision
2/12/15 -
Conservative group launches anti-stadium subsidy radio ad
2/11/15 - Lobbying ramps up after rankings come in