Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Stadiums Are Expensive; They're Also Retail

An office watercooler conversation this week about the top news stories of 2013 led to this conversation:
Co-worker: "Obviously, the Rays stadium is one of them."

Me: "Really? There hasn't been any movement or news all year."

Co-worker: "Well, that's the story I guess."
Sadly, the Stadium Stalemate drags on, but that won't stop the newspapers (or TV) from trying to advance the story any way possible.

Case-in-point: the Times' Stephen Nohlgren writes this morning the Braves' pending stadium deal could impact the Rays' stadium chances, and we can learn valuable lessons from Atlanta:
 • Stadiums are expensive, even without retractable roofs. Counting land, infrastructure and stadium, the Cobb project comes in at $670 million and is due to open for the 2017 season.

• The public purse often seals the deal, even with a franchise as rich as the Braves. Cobb County's share is $300 million.

Total costs in Atlanta — including a real estate development on the site — could top $1 billion, a "staggering figure,'' said Hillsborough County Commission Ken Hagan.

"But each project is unique.'' he said. "I don't think that model is a reflection of what may potentially happen here,''
There are already many questions about the Braves' deal, such as whether the deal will actually go through and whether they can survive with the bare number of parking spots.  Nohlgren does a good job to point out Tampa's funding options (rental car taxes, TIF money) could quickly dry up and there just isn't anywhere close to $300 million available in Hillsborough Co. for a new stadium.

But a few addendums to Nohlgren's article:
  • The $300 million Cobb Co. stadium subsidy will likely bypass a referendum.  It's probably a necessity in an age where taxpayers don't want to pay for stadiums, but how would that go over in Hillsborough?
  • Cobb Co. is paying $300 million for a retail center.  The Rays have even said baseball is a retail business.  So when Commissioner Ken Hagan tells the Times he could support tax money for a deal that "furthers county goals," was he talking about the high-wage technology investments that commission frequently mentions?  Or was he talking about low-paying retail jobs the Times editorial board frequently pans?
  • Many of Hillsborough County's commissioners have pledged no tax dollars for a stadium.  Ken Hagan has already broken from his original stance, but it could be very difficult for others to do so.
This blog's critics will quickly point to instances where retail subsidies have turned out well for a region.  But those usually occur in depressed areas, not thriving/up-and-coming areas.  And they usually come in the form of tax breaks for developers, not up-front cash to build out a complex.

Economists hate retails subsidies, and many elected leaders do too.  However, they sometimes forget that when a stadium is attached to them.


  1. I feel like the escalating costs of these stadiums, and the difficulty that creates in getting new ones built, is a part of this that doesn't get talked about enough.

    Look at some past stadiums. Oriole Park at Camden Yards is the facility that really kicked off this series of new MLB parks. It's beloved and well-reviewed. It opened in 1992, and cost $110 million, even adjusted for inflation, that's $183 million.

    A more recent example in a market comparable to Tampa Bay, is PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Another park that people are very fond of. It opened in 2001 and cost $216 million, $285 million with inflation.

    Hell, if you want a local example, look at Raymond James Stadium. It's a football stadium, but it's got 65,000 seats (30,000 more than what the next Rays stadium would probably have), has been well-enough viewed to be granted two Super Bowls (may get another one in its lifetime), and a fairly major college bowl game ever year. It opened in 1998, and cost $168.5 million ($241 million with inflation).

    Now none of those has a roof, but even if add around $100 million for that (might vary depending upon fixed or retractable), you're up to $283 million for an equivalent to Oriole Park, $385 million for PNC, or $341 million for Raymond James, all under the $400 million mark.

    If you want to look at retractable roof baseball parks that have been built, most of them do have $500+ million pricetags. But look at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Opened in 2000 for $250 million ($339 with inflation). I don't see why you couldn't take the same design, make some aesthetic tweaks so it wouldn't be an exact copy (which wouldn't necessarily have to add much to the cost), and you could throw in another $50 million for various amenities or upgraded suites, and still be under that $400 million mark.

    I'm not an engineer or an architect, and I'm sure that there's something that I'm missing. But I just don't see where the numbers are adding up on this. We're having these costs balloon anywhere up to another $300 million dollars, and I just don't understand why, especially if we're talking about involving taxpayer dollars. If the Yankees wanna blow thru $1 billion, that's up to them, but it seems to me that Tampa Bay ought to be able to built a nice yet reasonable facility for under $400 million.

  2. (Noah) Your not going to agree with me (as usual (lol)), but what if the Rays ARE making big bank playing @ the cheap Trop, and is more comfortable staying put, make more $, and talk about moving to Tampa for the extra publicity in continuing to keep Tampa people & the rest that live closer to there happy to possibly sell more tickets, and continue to keep the "progressive train" moving in Channelside for when they do move there in 5-10 years...

    1. Nothing looks to happen in the next 5-10 years anyway, but it would only seem their constant flirting with Tampa serves to hurt attendance in St. Pete. Good topic for a future blogpost....