Thursday, August 8, 2013

Why Transit is More Important than Stadium Location

I've long preached that you cannot have a meaningful discussion about stadium sites without first discussing stadium financing.

But it's also important to realize you cannot start to discuss stadium sites without first discussing what Tampa Bay's transit picture will look like in 2025 (or 2035 or 2045).

While it's all well-and-good to figure out how many people currently live within a 30-minute drive of Carillon vs. a 30-minute drive of Downtown Tampa (hint: it's the same), the region's transportation picture will be drastically different by 2035.  And the presence of light rail and/or rapid-transit buses will reshape our impressions of a "reasonable" commute.

Earlier this year, Rays owner Stu Sternberg acknowledged "transit (is) the real difference-maker...it's a foregone conclusion: wherever we end up (with a new stadium)...there will be a stop there."

And forget just a "stop" - a new stadium could be a regional hub: think Penn Station and Madison Square Garden.  Transit really could be a difference-maker - even more than the stadium's location.

With an extensive transit footprint, not even Downtown St. Petersburg looks like a bad stadium site. Truth is, there would be no bad stadium site if the light rail could whisk you from Wesley Chapel to The Trop in under an hour.

I'm not saying a new stadium in Downtown St. Pete make sense, but successful transit would make our sprawling region look a lot smaller.

Yet despite huge momentum for light rail right now, Hillsborough County doesn't even have a referendum lined up for voters to weigh in on it.  And like a new baseball stadium, it doesn't have money for the project either, yet.

I've always thought that a stadium funding package could piggyback a transit referendum, just as Raymond James Stadium did with school funding back in 1996.  But Kevin Thurman, Executive Director at Connect Tampa Bay, tells me that's not likely for legislative and practical reasons.

Nevertheless, Florida has long been a petri dish of growth management experiments and before this region can worry about a new stadium, it needs to figure out its long-term transportation strategy.

There is no doubt transit provides a great value to a community. But if light rail is determined to be too costly for the value it provides, the region needs to figure out how it will address growth.  Otherwise, the 30-minute commute time from Downtown Tampa won't extend past Dale Mabry.

And just as the elected leaders in Tampa Bay need to take a hard, honest look at whether spending huge amounts of money on light rail is right for this region, they need to take the same hard, honest look at stadium costs.

Pro sports teams provide great value to a region's image, if nothing else. But at some point, the public cost outweighs the value...and the region needs to figure out how much it really wants to pay for these luxuries.

9 comments:

  1. Noah is having sour grapes. Face it the Rays arent staying in St. Pete. Noah face reality or stop posting!!!

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  2. Noah,

    You state "the region needs to figure out how it will address growth".

    What is going to cause growth here?

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  3. Population is growing quite fast in Hillsborough County.

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  4. We have one set of commenters accusing Noah of having a Hillsborough bias, and another set accusing him of being a Pinellas homer.

    Hilarious.

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    1. I also allegedly hate Progressives, Conservatives, and everyone in between.

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  5. Light rail costs of $3-5 million a mile not including land acquisition or rolling stock costs in places like San Jose as well as other decentralized urban areas where the locals have been moving around primarily by car for generations should be a warning lesson before dumping billions into a boondoggle that
    will only be a drain on the tax base for future generations.
    As someone who used rail transit in the top US market, it's obvious that rail
    transit works where it has been available for a century or more.
    In places like the SF bay area, transit officials have been begging locals to
    use their transit with tepid results. Long held habits like how to get to work
    are hard to change.

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    1. PJ's comments are salient. A key component of the success of various forms of mass transit has to do with the "other" end of the mass transit route. Light rail to a stadium in any location presumably makes it more convenient to get into the stadium. But can various "mass transit" proposals solve the problem of how the game attendee gets to the mass transit point of origination from work or home? Truth is, that is a far more significant challenge in a region that was intentionally developed with a great deal of spread.
      I think Noah's point about the need to take potential/likely changes into account when planning a new stadium in the Bay Area is correct, but am certain that transportation is only one piece of the puzzle. It may be true that the demographics of who attends live baseball games has changed from the patterns of a decade ago, and these changes may continue to persist, forever reshaping the dynamic of who comes to games and why. These changes are just as important in trying to figure out how to site a stadium that maximizes the "travel time/hassle worth it ness" of a site.

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