Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Times Editorial Board Cranks Up Pressure on Mayor Foster

The St. Petersburg Times Editorial Board will print its "Five questions for the mayor on Rays" tomorrow morning and join Councilwoman Leslie Curran in pressuring Bill Foster to break his silent stalemate with the franchise. But to assume the fault belongs solely on the shoulders of the mayor is only one of the board's poor assumptions.
When the City Council discusses the issue today, here are five questions council members should ask the mayor:

1 Why do you fear allowing the Rays to evaluate potential stadium sites in Tampa?
Despite the Rays' lack of interest in a new stadium in downtown St. Petersburg, the city has a number of assets: the long-term stadium lease, publicly owned land, interstate access and a revenue stream of public money that could be redirected from Tropicana Field to help pay for a new stadium. Let's see how that stacks up to what the Rays might find in Tampa, whose assets include a broader business base and possibly shorter driving times for more fans.
Mayor Foster, as I've written before, is afraid of a Tampa vs. St. Pete competition. To allow the two cities to compete against each other means one side could overextend itself again in order to make the Rays happy. He sees it as his job to protect St. Pete's interests, and that means avoiding a Tampa vs. St. Pete war.
2 What could St. Petersburg receive in return for allowing a broader search of stadium sites?
Allowing the Rays to look in Hills­borough is worth something. Reasonable negotiators could agree on fair compensation that would allow the Rays to look only in Pinellas and Hillsborough for a limited time, and the city still has the long-term lease.
This point is valid; if St. Pete could get a payment in exchange for allowing the Rays to explore Tampa, Foster might jump at the chance. But I'm not sure the Rays would.
3 How does refusing to allow the Rays to look at possible stadium sites in Hillsborough benefit the city's negotiating position?
Every year that goes by, the less that is owed on the bonds that paid for the Trop and the less time that remains on the stadium lease, which expires in 2027. The city's leverage decreases as the clock ticks, and it becomes less expensive for the Rays to buy their way out or for a future owner to move the team and fight in court.
But, the Times fails to acknowledge, every year that goes by also means another year of Rays baseball in St. Petersburg, supposedly worth more than whatever buy-out might be proposed.
4 What are the long-term time lines and financial considerations?
Studying stadium sites, identifying revenue options and building public support takes time. A stadium is not going to be built soon, but Tampa Bay should be poised to move when the economy recovers.

St. Petersburg should study all of its options. The Tropicana Field site was attractive to developers when the Rays proposed their ill-fated waterfront stadium, and it will be again when the economy revives. Compare the cost of building a stadium and the economic impact of Major League Baseball in the city to saving the money a new stadium would cost, selling the Trop site to private developers, revitalizing that portion of the city and bringing spring training back to St. Petersburg. The more information, the better informed the decisions.
I guess the question is, "what's there to study?" If the Rays maintain location is the big reason people aren't coming to The Trop, why bother conducting studies that would suggest another Pinellas location would be better? Especially since any regional search would yield what's a forgone conclusion: Tampa is a better location for the stadium. It would crush Foster's leverage in the negotiation.
5 If the Rays do not want a new stadium in St. Petersburg, would you rather residents drive to Tampa to see their favorite players or fly to Charlotte?
Not only do I believe the Rays want to stay in Tampa Bay, where they've built considerable equity, but I don't think Charlotte is anywhere close to being in a position to lure a new team. All Charlotte represents right now - and the Times falls into the trap perfectly - is a city MLB would like to use to "blackmail" Tampa Bay, just as they did eith Tampa Bay for so many years.

1 comment:

  1. St. Pete stands to gain financially if the Rays leave if they buy out their contract, if the Trop property returns to the tax rolls or if a settlement deal allows them to break their contract. All of those potential gains dwindle as the contract runs out.

    So, think of the question like this: If the cost of a new stadium that could keep the Rays here indefinitely was too high for the city to bear, how much financial sense does it make to give up millions in return for another five years of baseball? Or 10 years? Or 15?