Thursday, March 29, 2012

Grass-Roots Group Wants Selig Intervention

Yesterday I reported on 10 News/WTSP that the grass-roots group, "Build it Downtown Tampa," has written MLB commissioner Bud Selig a letter urging him to intervene in the stalemate between St. Pete and the Rays.

Then, this morning, we chatted about the developments (and lack thereof) again:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tampa Bay Times Hypocritical on Stadium Saga

The Tampa Bay Times continues its war on St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster with a Thursday morning editorial that cited a "failure to lead" on the Rays stadium issue. Once again, they called on him to make a concession to the Rays in exchange for cash:
Foster should propose amending the lease to allow the Rays to study stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough for a limited period. In return, the Rays would pay the city for the opportunity. It's not at all certain where the ideal stadium site would be, given the complications of assembling the land, finding enough parking and exploring funding options. And regardless of the results of a comprehensive look at the market, St. Petersburg would be protected financially. The city would still hold the Trop lease with the Rays that doesn't expire until 2027.
One major problem is the assumption that the Rays would be willing to pay St. Pete for the right to study stadium sites in Tampa. The team has made no such public offer yet.

But even more baffling - and hypocritical - is how the Times criticizes Foster for not doing enough to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay - even though their contract extends for 15 more years. Yet, the column acknowledges that St. Petersburg is "protected financially...(by its contract) with the Rays that doesn't expire until 2027."

If the contract protects St. Pete financially until 2027, it prevents the Rays from leaving Tampa Bay - or even talking to other cities - until 2027 too.

So then why does the Times continue to diminish St. Pete's leverage one editorial at a time???

Forbes: Rays' Value Down 2%

A disappointing year at the box office has the Rays' team value down 2% to $323 million, according to Forbes.

Of course, it's all relative since the team was valued at $176 million in 2005 when Stu Sternberg assumed majority control of the club. And, Forbes estimates the team is raking in $26.2 million annually in operating expenses - the fifth-best margin in the majors, thanks to revenue sharing.

Also chew on this: Sternberg & co. have seen their investment grow by 65% since 2005. The stock market, over the same time, has grown by just 18%.

And what does a new stadium mean to a team's bottom line? In the Miami Marlins case, $90 million; the team surges to No. 21 in the majors at $450 million total value.

The Biz of Baseball has more here, as well as historical values here.

PS - it's worth noting Forbes' writer on the MLB values article is Mike Ozanian, who thinks there are only three more seasons of baseball at Tropicana Field.

Hillsborough Commissioner Out to Fulfill Campaign Promise

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan tells the Tampa Bay Times that he's finally ready to take action on one of his campaign promises: keeping the Rays in Tampa Bay:
"I'm just beyond frustrated at the lack of progress regarding the Rays' long-term future in the Tampa Bay region," Hagan said. "For me, just sitting by idly and hoping issues will work themselves out is counterproductive."

In coming weeks, Hagan said he will ask county attorneys to opine on whether Hillsborough can engage in direct talks with the Rays about their future in the region despite the team's lease at Tropicana Field. If he gets a favorable response, he said he will reach out to the team to figure out what the Rays want and how local government can help.
Hagan went on to tell the Times that local governments lose a little bit of leverage every day because the cost for the Rays to break a contract gets smaller.

However, Hagan neglects to acknowledge leverage is also diminished every time an elected official suggests the team break its contract, as he is directly implying.

On the campaign trail in 2010, Hagan said "It's important to our community and our economy to have a plan...a vote for me is a vote for future sporting events (in Hillsborough County)." He made it clear he was prepared to bring the Rays to Tampa.

Additionally, every year that goes by without new stadium talks also means another year of Rays baseball in St. Petersburg, supposedly worth more than whatever buy-out might be proposed.

Also read: What Mayor Bill Foster is Thinking

Politicians like Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn have been calculated in describing circumstances that could lead to the Rays leaving Pinellas. And that means a possible 9-figure buyout on top of the $500-$600 million stadium cost.

So regardless of what the Hillsborough Commission decides, the county still can't afford to build a new stadium on its own and there isn't enough money in Tampa Bay to build a new stadium without public dollars, or else we wouldn't be having this conversaion.

Instead, the stadium saga continues to be a political football, much to the dismay of local business and community leaders.

"When the cities start fighting with each other, it just drives us up the wall,"
one influential leader told the Tampa Tribune in January.

The most encouraging "way out" of this saga remains the work of the private business groups researching regional financing options. Stay tuned for their updates this summer.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Florida Legislature Gives Miami Bailout on Marlins Deal

Before the Miami Marlins have even delivered their first pitch, their deal with the city of Miami has prompted the Florida legislature to pass a $1.2 million bailout:
The county tax assessor had previously noted that because the garages are reserved for Marlins fans during Marlins games — pretty much the only time you'd want to park there — they should be subject to taxes, and the city agreed to pay all taxes on the garages in their lease with the team. However, the state legislature approved a bill yesterday exempting the city from property taxes, and the county said it won't challenge the ruling.

What this basically means is that the city won't have to suddenly pay the county $1.2 million a year as a result of the stadium deal — whether you consider that a good or a bad thing depends largely on whether you're concerned about the city or county budget. It's still possible that someone could file a lawsuit challenging the law — as the Miami Herald notes, the Florida supreme court ruled in 2001 that "regular, for-profit use of a government building by a private entity essentially disqualifies the building from receiving a tax break" — but for now, it looks like Miami is off the hook for this cost, at least.
Good news for City of Miami taxpayers; bad news for Miami-Dade county taxpayers.

And in case you were keeping score at home, it seems the Feds are still looking into that controversial deal...

Friday, March 9, 2012

Lessons From the Legislature: Strong-Arming Incentives, MLS Money

If you didn't see how Florida State Senator JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, single-handedly strong-armed his way to creation of a new university that nobody else wanted, it's an interesting case study in how a powerful politician can defy the will of the voters, his fellow lawmakers, and even the governor.

It's also a similar study in how unpopular stadium deals can get pushed through even when everyone else is against them. Lobbyists in Tallahassee are taking in-depth notes on this one.

Also interesting is an earmark I stumbled upon in the 389-page (so far) Florida budget expected to be approved later today.

On page 275 is a $1 million allocation to the Central Florida Sports Commission for "securing the Major League Soccer combine and spring training commitment."

Disney lobbied for the incentive.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the $1 million expendature came from "Rep. Mike Horner, a Republican from Kissimmee who oversees the (House's) spending on economic-development programs."

"Let's call this what it is: goofy," Alan Stonecipher, an analyst with the Tallahassee-based Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, which advocates for low- and medium-income taxpayers, told the Sentinel. "There's no justification for the Legislature to give money to professional-soccer teams while taking money from children's hospitals, the families who depend on them, universities, college students and other services vital to the well-being of Floridians."

It's hard for this reporter to imagine MLS bringing $1 million in economic impact to Florida, but then again, Disney wouldn't be where it is if didn't have imagination.