Saturday, June 9, 2012

Guillen Wants a Rays Stadium, Too

Marlins' manager Ozzie Guillen, who has never said anything controversial before, said this weekend that the Rays "deserve" a new stadium and joked that he'd foot the first few million it would cost to get it done:

"Build the ballpark for them, please. Why not?" Guillen said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "They're playing well. They've got a great organization. I think now they deserve that. They earned it. They play the game good, play the game right, and play the game hard, and in a very tough division....If one team deserves a new ballpark, it's them, because I think fans will support it a little bit better, and I think it'll be great for the city."

It should come as no surprise a MLB manager thinks a new stadium built on public subsidies is a good idea. And it should come as no surprise by now nobody asked Guillen who he thought should pay for it.

But Creative Loafing's Mitch Perry, who seldom wades into the deep end of the stadium debate, managed to do what few others are capable of: he celebrates a beautiful building while admonishing the way it was financed.

The newly opened Marlins Park in the Little Havana section of Miami is Major League Baseball’s newest edifice, and impressive it is.

Of course, at a cost of $634 million, it had better be. Although the 19-year-old franchise (née Florida Marlins, now Miami) has taken two World Series in its relatively short history (in ’97 and 2003), its attendance at home games has always been weak. Part of that problem had to be the fact that the team played in a huge, open-air football stadium, where humidity and the threat of rain put a crimp on advance sales.

While the Tampa Bay Rays negotiations for a new stadium are currently in limbo, the Marlins were able to suck vigorously from the teat of the taxpayer, with Miami Dade County selling approximately $377 million in bonds and the city of Miami kicking in another $102 million for the park and adjacent parking garages (the Marlins management graciously spent $120 million of its own money).

So what can you expect if you visit Marlins Park this summer? First of all, most of the “official” public parking comes from four large parking garages built next to the park that charge $15 a spot. But, like Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, the park is in a residential neighborhood. That means you’ll see all types of people holding signs that say “Parking.” We saw a lot of $15 signs initially, but after circling around the park found a less greedy homeowner who was willing to charge only $10 to drive up on his grass and park (as tightly as possible) next to another car already lodged there.

In short:
  • The Marlins' biggest problems with their old stadium were humidity and the threat of rain, even though those arguments don't hold water in Tampa Bay.
  • Being near a "downtown corridor" wasn't important to the Marlins, even though in Tampa Bay, it's seen as one of the biggest reasons for attendance failures.
  • Miami fans have to pay $10-$15 to park, even though the are already paying tax premiums to pay for the garages.
Perry goes on to compliment the Marlins' dining options and access to concesions, but implies a retractable roof is a $100 million waste in certain cities:

The inside of the enclosed stadium resembles a large basketball arena more than, say, Tropicana Field (and now that it’s summer, good luck ever seeing the retractable dome opened up again any time soon).

One of the things Perry (who typically covers politics) does best is present both sides of the argument, as he does with attendance analysis:
Through 26 home games this season, (Marlins) attendance is averaging 28,543, which puts them right in the middle of the pack of the 30 Major League teams — roughly an increase of 67 percent from the first 24 games of 2011.

However, there’s this cautionary note: According to, of the nine teams that have opened new parks in the last decade, only the 2003 Cincinnati Reds had a smaller average at this point in the first year occupying their new digs.

Rays owner Stu Sternberg and other management, as well as St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster, have downplayed any talk of a new park in order to concentrate on getting more people into the seats at the Trop this year. But even though the Rays still have one of the top records in baseball through the first two months of 2012, their average home attendance of 19,504 was second to last (behind only Cleveland) as of June 4.

Going to Marlins Park really does throw into stark relief how lousy a ballpark Tropicana Field really is. It was built in 1990, a year before Baltimore’s Camden Yards led the revolution toward newer, more intimate downtown-situated structures. When the Rays franchise first began playing games there nine years later, the stadium was already out of date. Fourteen years later, it’s really out of date.

But it’s all we’ve got for now, and it behooves Rays fans to start attending more games. Otherwise, the arguments for Stu Sternberg to look somewhere outside of Tampa Bay will have more and more legitimacy.
It's a little surprising there hasn't been more chaos in the stadium saga as we approach the two-year anniversary of Sternberg's ultimatum (compliments to all parties involved), but in the 9-inning game of getting a new stadium built, we're probably just getting into the bottom of the 3rd.

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