This year's edition once again urges St. Pete's mayor (now Rick Kriseman) to cut a deal with the Rays to let the team explore stadium sites "in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties." The fear is that public and private projects will move ahead without a stadium; a different fear than the paper board has tapped in previous years:
This window of opportunity will not be open much longer. In 2015, the Tropicana Field bonds paid by a portion of the Pinellas resort tax will be paid off. Other projects already are making pitches for a share of that resort tax money. In Hillsborough County, the Tampa Convention Center bonds will be paid off next year and the redevelopment districts that generated the revenue for them will expire if they are not reapproved. Higher car rental fees already are allocated toward paying off bonds for an expansion at Tampa International Airport. Those sorts of revenue streams would be needed to build a new baseball stadium, but the money will be allocated to other projects if the stadium discussion does not move in a clear direction soon.But wait, is funding other projects necessarily a bad thing? Would Tampa Bay be better off with a stadium instead of all the things possible stadium money could go to: airport improvements, transit improvements, beach renourishment, infrastructure, etc? I don't know, but that seems to be a more important discussion the Times should be calling for.
Watchdogs should also ask if there is a real need for a replacement stadium right now, 14 years before the contract expires. Yes, we know the Rays draw the smallest crowds in the league despite great sucecss...but they're still raking the profits in.
Baseball is still a $8 billion business that is on the verge of $9 billion this year. And let's not forget the Rays are only a few years away from reaping a giant television windfall too.
Of course, the Times once insisted the Rays open their books to demonstrate a need...but that's been all but forgotten.
Property in and around potential stadium sites also could be gobbled up for other uses. Fortune 500 company Jabil Circuit is still considering whether to build a corporate headquarters near Tropicana Field that could transform downtown and make the Trop site even more attractive for other uses besides a baseball stadium. In Tampa's downtown, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik controls more than 20 acres around the Tampa Bay Times Forum and is believed to have other ideas for that property. A nearby flour mill site has potential as a stadium site, but the mill would have to be moved and some of Vinik's property still would be needed.Conversely, if property in St. Pete could be used for better things than a stadium, couldn't the same be said about Tampa? We know a stadium can bring great pride & vibe to a downtown, but it doesn't necessarily mean its the highest-and-best use of Downtown Tampa land.
That said, there is simply no shortage of land in Tampa Bay. Yes, the ConAgra flour mill plant is likely Tampa's best possible stadium site, but there are no imminent plans (or methods) to replace it right now. So what's the urgent rush?
The bottom line, though, remains the same. The Rays will not be playing in the Trop when its lease expires in 2027. The franchise needs a modern stadium, and it needs to be able to look in both Pinellas and Hillsborough for the best location. The city and the team need to reach an agreement that would let the Rays look in those two counties for a reasonable amount of time in return for some financial benefit to St. Petersburg. It's up to Kriseman and (Rays owner Stu) Sternberg to make that happen, and there is no more time to waste.By pointing out there are 14 years left on its contract (not a lease), the Times contradicts its own urgency claim. Nevertheless, the feeling is shared by many Rays fans who have bought the hype.
So the next question is: how long will it take for the Times to turn on Kriseman if he digs his heels in for St. Pete and there is no considerable progress in stadium talks.
We may know more later this week; Kriseman and Rays owner Stu Sternberg are expected to meet again at an undisclosed time and location.
UPDATE: Although the Tampa Tribune editorial board also supports a Tampa stadium, it chose to "leave that discussion for another time." Instead, it listed 17 reasons to love the Rays in their 17th season. Really is a great list. And, in case you missed it, former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio wrote an op-ed this weekend about how the Trop came to be in St. Pete and why the Tampa/St. Pete rivalry continues to get in the way.
UPDATE 2: Not sure how I missed this, but Joe Brown penned a column in the Trib this weekend that contended, "Tropicana Field isn’t the most beautiful ballpark in baseball, but in these cash-strapped times it will have to do for now. So play ball." Joe, you must be a Shadow of the Stadium reader. So thanks!