Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tampa Sports Authority Exploring State Stadium Funding for Bucs and/or Rays

With state legislators preparing to debate how to divvy up your tax dollars for pro stadium projects, the officials who operate Raymond James Stadium - and may also play a role in Tampa Bay Rays stadium discussions - are trying to learn more about state financing available for stadium-building.

A consultant for the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA) coordinated a December conference call between the agency's CEO, Eric Hart, and officials from Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). The call was regarding the process for receiving state stadium funds, according to a TSA spokesperson, even though he added few specifics were discussed.

The TSA could request up to $90 million from the state for renovations to Raymond James Stadium, which is approaching 17 years old, or a new pro sports facility in Hillsborough County. Previously, Hillsborough Co. Commissioner Ken Hagan suggested the TSA could take the lead in finding a new home for the Rays in Tampa.

For a renovation - or new construction - project to receive state dollars under a new 2014 law, teams and municipalities must first break ground on the project, then seek reimbursement under a "competitive" process.

The TSA spokesperson said the call was simply informational, with no imminent request expected.

I've spent the last month debunking dubious claims from four pro organizations seeking state tax dollars this year. But the hundreds of millions of dollars they seek are still on the table.

 PREVIOUS COVERAGE:2/19/15 - Jags threaten bad business decisions if state doesn't pay up
2/19/15 - Lawmakers kick can down road again on subsidy decision
2/12/15 -
Conservative group launches anti-stadium subsidy radio ad
2/11/15 - Lobbying ramps up after rankings come in

Kriseman Trying to Count to Five

An old joke in politics is that the most important job of a mayor is to learn how to count.  As in, don't bring something for a city council vote if you don't know you've got the votes to pass it.

In Rick Kriseman's defense, he may have had the five votes necessary to pass December's MOU agreement before one councilman asked an insightful question and Rays President Brian Auld gave a less-than-desirable response.

But Kriseman won't make that mistake again.  According to Charlie Frago at the Tampa Bay Times, Kriseman is meeting with councilmembers privately to see if his newest compromise will be enough to get five of eight necessary votes:
Kriseman and the Rays have agreed on how development rights — which are shared between the city and the team in the contract for Tropicana Field — would play out if the Rays leave the Trop before the contract's expiration in 2027, Kirby said.
Council member Darden Rice said Kriseman has described the new deal to her.

"Predictably, it clarifies the intention is not to do that (allow the Rays to profit), but that the city couldn't just go ahead with a new project and impede baseball traffic or crimp parking," Rice said.

But it's not apparent that development rights are still the main obstacle.

"If that were the reason, I'm optimistic," council Chairman Charlie Gerdes said. "But then Coach (Bill Dudley) said he wanted a shorter search. That's a new wrinkle to me."
Last week, Dudley told the Times that the team should have 18 months — not three years— to find a new site.

Sternberg also said no Rays officials would be present at the next vote.

Kirby declined to comment when asked if that made Kriseman's task tougher, but Rice said she understood Sternberg's logic.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Food for Thought: Are St. Pete Officials Any More "Selfish" Than Hillsborough's?

This morning in the Trib, a Hillsborough Co. man wrote a letter to the editor suggesting St. Pete's council was "selfish" for looking out for its constituents and the members needed to "grow up."

His sentiments echo frequent Hillsborough feedback on this blog that St. Pete's elected officials are a joke

But Hillsborough fans don't typically realize they're asking St. Pete to make a financial concession to the Rays for the betterment of the Tampa Bay region.

So I pose this hypothetical: if the Rays determined the best place for a future stadium - because of land and financing - was on the Pinellas side of the Howard Frankland Bridge, would Hillsborough County residents be willing to contribute tax dollars toward it?

Some Hillsborough County Commissioners are already on-the-record against a multi-county tax, so maybe it's not that unusual for elected officials to balk at making financial concessions for a facility on the other side of the Bay...even if it is in the "region's" interests?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Times Ed Board: Sternberg Wrong to Hate on St. Pete Council...That's Our Job!

A rare Tampa Bay Times editorial criticizing Rays' owner Stu Sternberg suggests he's right on most Stadium Saga issues...but he's wrong to keep staff from attending more St. Pete council meetings:
[I]t could take about five years to identify a site, arrange financing and build a stadium. Yet some council members still fail to grasp that the more time passes without an agreement to let the Rays look for a new home, the less negotiating leverage the city has in seeking payments for leaving early and the longer the city has to wait to redevelop the site.

While Sternberg's substantive points are fair and reasonable, his lack of appreciation for local politics and community sensibilities undercuts his message. Council members already are sensitive about being taken for granted and put off by a perceived air of superiority from a wealthy team owner who lives in New York. Refusing to talk to them at a public meeting does not help, particularly when some former elected officials and community activists urge council members to reject any deal with the Rays.
OK, so this is more of a backhanded compliment suggestion aimed at St. Pete's council.  The Times continues on to suggest those hesitant elected officials should quickly move to approve whatever Mayor Kriseman negotiates next with the team.  But if council has questions of the looks like they won't have anyone from the team to ask.

A brief history of Times editorials on the Stadium Saga: 
The history goes further back than that, but for a good synopsis, watch my 2010 piece on newspapers cheerleading for new stadium projects.

Manfred Still Upbeat About Rays' Stadium Saga

From the NY Daily News' interview with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, which they labeled "exclusive"...even though he's already done a number of other one-on-one interviews:
I feel positive about the Tampa Bay situation because I see stadium issues as fundamentally club, local issues and Mr. Sternberg has reiterated his desire and belief he can reach an acceptable solution in Tampa. I’ve had a lot of communication with Mr. Sternberg and what’s important is that Stu is committed to staying in Tampa and he is confident he’ll be able to. Regarding the A’s situation in Oakland, two points: One, it’s important to note the long history of franchise stability that has served this institution well. Communities make huge commitments to teams — in the case of the A’s, we’re talking about 47 years in Oakland — and baseball has had a natural reluctance to leave cities with that kind of history. Two, San Jose is complicated by ongoing litigation that was commenced by the city (the city of San Jose is suing baseball under anti-trust laws). Most good lawyers will tell you that litigation has a natural effect of slowing the process down, but that was their choice, not ours. I think the A’s need a new facility and it remains a priority of mine to get both clubs into facilities. I think because of geographic and political differences, the situation with the A’s is more challenging.
Somewhat encouraging news for Tampa Bay fans at least?

Why Sternberg's "2022" Deadline Comment Means Nothing

Stu Sternberg tells reporters he's going to look for new stadium sites by 2022, with or without St. Pete's blessing.  But:
All Sternberg said is - sometime in the next seven years - he'll need to start looking at 2028 stadium options.  Which is no surprise, given the team's current contract with St. Pete prohibits the Rays from exploring any move prior to 2028.

So in short: Sternberg said he'd continue to honor the team's business deal and will spend the next seven years if necessary trying to improve it.  At least that's better than his previously-mentioned alternative.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

St. Pete Councilman Poses Sobering Questions on Stadium Saga

Good story over on SaintPetersblog about a St. Pete councilman who doesn't always speak up...but when he does, it's worth listening to.  Excerpts from the story on Karl Nurse and funding a new Rays stadium:
“As you begin to piece together, well if you continue the six million a year the city’s been paying for debt service …. 2 million a year from the state …” Nurse trailed off. There’s also the county’s tourist tax kicked in for Tropicana Field. “That now gets you, perhaps, 40-50 percent the way toward a stadium.”
It's actually 3 million a year now from the state, thanks to Pinellas lawmaker Jack Latvala.  And we're talking about enough revenue to bond $300+ million in construction...a heck of a lot more than Hillsborough County could piece together right now.  But still several hundred million short of the expected price of a stadium.
“What it really tells you is that you’ve got to find a way to say, the Rays are likely to have to pay a larger share than they have in mind and you’ve got to find someway to bring a developer in there so that whatever you build generates additional revenue that can go towards the stadium,” Nurse said.
“All sports teams have vastly overstated their economic impact,” Nurse said. So why not figure out just how much money the Rays make for the city?
Nurse said professional sports is not a good community investment, but that doesn’t mean give them the boot.

“Generally communities say this is something they want even if it doesn’t make economic sense,” he said.

But even if the city wants to keep the Rays, and they do, and even if fans want to keep them, they definitely do, it may not matter.

“I think it really depends upon what are either side of the bay willing to pay? Can you bring a third developer in to help facilitate part of the cost,” Nurse asked. “Are the Rays willing to accept the fact that they are located in a growing television market, which, no matter where you put a stadium, is going to be inconvenient for a third or 40 percent of the region?”

He’s not sure that they are.
Good story.  Read the rest here.

What to Read Into Sternberg's Q&A with the Tampa Bay Biz Journal

UPDATE: The Tampa Bay Times' posted its Sternberg story too, where the Rays' owner says team executives will skip St. Pete council meetings from now on after he likened council's actions to a "mob mentality."  He also detailed the need to advance the stadium discussion sometime before 2022, since it will take at least five years to make a new home happen.  Which is no surprise and only supports the theory that the worst-case scenario may be 15 years of inaction...without losing frontrunner status for keeping the Rays here past 2027.

The incomparable Alexis Muellner with the Tampa Bay Business Journal spent 15 minutes with Rays owner Stu Sternberg Saturday at FanFest.  It's a good article worth checking out...but here are a few key excerpts from the Q&A:
TBBJ: There was some interesting reporting in the dailies this week about the economic impact of the Tropicana Field site without the stadium versus the team's impact, and coverage of a council workshop which it's been reported generated a lot of traffic online. A lot of the discussion boils down to the overall value of baseball to a region.

Sternberg: There is a place for sports in an area and culture in an area. I don't know if these things are mutually exclusive but very good metropolitan areas have a lot of different attractions that draw a lot of different people and clearly, for whatever reason – and I happen to be a baseball guy so I believe in the game and what it does – we get a million and a half visitors through the year, through our gates over 80 nights. We get anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 people per night in the area watching our games on TV and spending hours and hours with us. So clearly it has a place in the lives – not of everybody – but certainly not a small minority.

TBBJ: I spent some time with Brian Auld [Rays president] this week for our Executive Files profiles and we talked about retaining the team. He said he talked to a lot of people in Montreal that said when the Expos left, a party of the city's soul left with them.

Sternberg: I'm from Brooklyn and I grew up in Brooklyn. While it has recovered, I was young enough to know. After they left when I was 5 or 6, and able to understand it, the hurt that was there in Brooklyn. That's a team that I think was also, in a lot of ways, not unique, but I don't think there has ever been a team that's reflected its area as much [as the Brooklyn Dodgers].
There is a definite sting to losing a professional team.  It's probably not an economic loss, but an emotional loss...and what's the price on that?
TBBJ: The fact is there is little support for public financing of a stadium right now. What do you say to someone who asks why can't you finance this yourself?

Sternberg: When you boil it down, a new stadium for the sake of having a new stadium is not a reason for having a new stadium. When we came into it, we had the idea that we could look in the area specifically the land and in St. Petersburg downtown and explore that so we started on that track, but we also felt quite frankly, that the area hadn't seen a good product and one to be proud of and if we can instill that pride. So, let's try to make this place [The Trop] great and as good as we can. We put over $20 million bucks in at first. Now it's a while ago. We've continued to make improvements to it and with the idea of, if it can work in here, great, there's no reason for a new stadium. Clearly there is something that is inhibiting people from coming here. We want to explore and try to figure out what that is. Is it in fact the stadium? Is it in fact the location? Is it the fact that is surrounded by parking lots? Is that a plus or a minus? Do we need public transportation? How important is that? Is it important to have multiple restaurants and bars and other entertainment in the area. Those are the kinds of questions or is it in fact, this stadium?
Your honor, let the record show Mr. Sternberg answered a totally different question than was asked of him.  However, he is right that the team's attendance struggles are likely the result of a multitude of issues...issues that he may have underestimated when purchasing the team.
TBBJ: In reality, the fan experience, my experience has been that it is good. It does take an hour to drive home to places like North Hillsborough, or for me, east Pasco County.

Sternberg: Those are the same issues elsewhere in many other areas as well. St. Louis people drive six or eight hours. I'm not saying I would. I was used to taking three subways and a bus to get to where I needed to get. It's all different.
Bingo.  I've written before about Floridians' short tolerance for recreation travel if it doesn't involve football, a beach, or a hunting rifle.  But the Rays' (and Marlins') biggest problems generally revolve around fans' unwillingness to drive more than 30 minutes for a game on a weeknight.  It's not like that in many of the traditional markets.

Sternberg continues to say the widespread market poses a problem more for the potential season-ticket holder than it does the fan who goes to just a few games a year.  He also talks to Muellner about living in NY vs. Fla., and as Sternberg has done in previous one-on-one interviews...he comes across very sincere and well-intentioned.

Click here to read the entire Tampa Bay Business Journal Q&A.

Friday, February 20, 2015

More Fallout From Thursday's St. Pete Rays Stadium Workshop

Yesterday, St. Pete's city council decided yesterday to research building a new Rays stadium downtown {instant reaction here}.  And while the workshop seemed to be largely a waste of time, there were some good discussions brought up about financing a stadium (finally!).

As this blog has long contended, elected leaders have been ignoring the elephant in the room and avoiding discussions about the tax dollars needed for a stadium.  But now, we have almost every St. Pete councilmember on the record saying they don't want to commit any additional tax revenues above what they're already paying for the Trop.

Of course, we've learned the "no tax" promise isn't nearly as ironclad as the team's contract with the Rays.

Nevertheless, there was a lot of attention in this morning's papers about council's believe that they can keep the Rays in St. Pete long-term.

Tampa Tribune columnist Joe Henderson writes it's a foolish belief, comes back to the "location, location, location" problem this blog first delved into back in 2009.  Henderson writes:
For the life of me, I can’t fathom that council members are kicking around an idea to build a new stadium adjacent to the current Trop. They would then develop the property around it with other enticing stuff, like what was supposed to happen nearly 30 years ago when the Trop was just a cataract in an architect’s eye.

I want to scream when I hear that. I want to laugh. But mostly, I want these people to stop wasting time. Building anywhere near the Trop would just extend the Rays’ location problem for another 30 years.
For what it's worth, I also wrote in 2009 that North St. Pete is the most likely landing spot for a new Rays stadium because of the available financing there.

What does Hillsborough Commissioner/stadium supporter Ken Hagan think about it?

“To seriously consider a new stadium at their current location is a recipe for disaster,” he told the Trib.

Over in the pages of the Times, Councilwoman Darden Rice was quoted as saying, "Allowing the Rays the flexibility to look within Tampa Bay is the main way we have of keeping them here beyond 2027...We have got to stop treating the Rays like our prisoner.''

And last, but not least...the Times editorial board got in another shot on St. Pete's council, mocking it for lack of leadership and hesitation to pay more than $6 million/yr for a potential new stadium.

For those of you keeping score at home, that's $180 million over 30 years on top of healthy contributions from the county, state, and presumably the Rays too.

The editorial brings up good points about one city's limited resources in funding a new stadium...but why does the editorial board never bring up the same issue to Tampa taxpayers, who have fewer available dollars to fund a stadium than their counterparts in St. Pete?

Finally, there's this baffling graf from the editorial:
Their lease to play at Tropicana Field expires in 2027, and there will come a time well before then that the team will let the lease expire rather than pay the city to leave a few years early for a new home in Tampa Bay.
If the worst-case scenario is the Rays fulfilling the terms of their use agreement (not a lease) until 2027, doesn't that mean this region has another 5-10 years to figure out a new stadium?

A brief history of Times editorials on the Stadium Saga:
The history goes further back than that, but for a good synopsis, watch my 2010 piece on newspapers cheerleading for new stadium projects.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Jags: We'll Cut Off Nose to Spite Face if State Doesn't Pay Us $30 Million!

The News Service of Florida reports after state legislators kicked the can down the road again on potential 2015 stadium subsidies, one of the suitors, the Jaguars, announced their club renovations were on hold since the team was really, really, really counting on those incentives:
"We won't go forward," (team rep Paul) Harden said. "We'll look for alternative sources, if they're there. This is a publicly owned building. It's the city of Jacksonville's decisions. As far as the football team is concerned, these are the dollars they were planning on spending for the upgrades."
Let's put aside the fact that the Jaguars' club-level seating renovations may not be the kind of tourism-driver Florida taxpayers should expect for their $30 million over 30 years.

And let's also put aside the fact that the team sold naming rights to the renovated club seats this week.  And that those profits will be going to billionaire owner Shahid Khan, not the public.

See, this threatmongering is absurd simply on the fact that the Jaguars' own subsidy application claims the $18 million club upgrade would net the team an additional $2.3 million per year (plus the naming rights).

So, assuming Khan has no trouble financing a construction loan, the Jags could conceivably just pay for the profitable club renovations themselves now and make their investment back in 10-15 years.  The state, however, would need about 200 years to recoup its investment based on its 6% sales tax cut of that "new" revenue.

At the end of the day, we shouldn't believe the Jags' threats.  Teams routinely exaggerate the scary repercussions of not getting state money.  But the truth is, as the Jags proved in 2013 with their scoreboard-replacement and end zone renovation project, pro teams typically just pay for construction themselves when they strike out on a subsidy.  Especially in Florida, where you can always just come back again (2014) and again (2015) asking for those dollars.

2/19/15 - Lawmakers kick can down road again on subsidy decision
2/12/15 -
Conservative group launches anti-stadium subsidy radio ad
2/11/15 - Lobbying ramps up after rankings come in

Lawmakers Kick Can Down the Road...Again...on State Stadium Subsidies

UPDATE: Anyone who says this new "competitive" process would make the stadium subsidy process less political and more subjective is just kidding themselves.  The 14 members selected by legislative leadership to the Joint Legislative Budget Commission decided to simply pass the stadium applications on to the full legislature, where they'll be lobbied and fought over for the next 10 weeks.

UPDATE 2: The News Service of Florida reports much of the commission was anti-subsidy, with future House Speaker Richard Corcoran calling the subsidies "a reversed, perverse Robin Hood...every economist, every study shows there is not any economic development to these proposals." Saint Petersblog postulates the powerful lobbyists working for the pro teams may have been responsible.  But either way, it adds another level of mockery to an already-lampooned process.  Conservative group American for Prosperity clearly wasn't happy with the GOP-led commission either.

Today is not just another big stadium day in St. Pete (read about this morning's Rays workshop) - Tallahassee will also tackle stadium subsidies with four hungry mouths waiting at the taxpayer trough.  (too harsh?)

This blog has already pointed out:
  • Florida's new stadium subsidy "competition" is no different than the old incentives, except way more money will be doled out;
  • The process was designed to reduce lobbying in the state capital, but it's only increased it;
  • Much of the "new" tax revenue the renovations will create are from higher ticket prices & inflation, not new visitors to Florida;
  • The law was written in a sneaky way so that the Miami Dolphins & Daytona International Speedway aren't required to prove an increase in tax receipts like other teams do;
  • Daytona and the Dolphins want to use state money to reduce their facilities' capacities;
  • State Sen. Latvala received more than $120k from the teams and owners that benefited from his 2014 stadium bill;
  • Even though state economists doubt the ROI of stadium subsidies, Gov. Scott has seemingly done everything possible to allow them to continue.
Looking forward to the developments this afternoon in the capital!

2/12/15 - Conservative group launches anti-stadium subsidy radio ad

Key Takeaways From Today's St. Pete Stadium Workshop

There really was no progress in this morning's St. Pete council workshop on a new Rays stadium, but as council chair Charlie Gerdes identified, this was going to be merely the first workshop in a long string of them to try and build the team a new home in Pinellas County (if they want one there). 

Key tweets:
And finally, one last observation I made:
Ball is now in the Rays' court, as they try to negotiate a new agreement with Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The Difference Between Pork and Investment: Location

This morning the Orlando Sentinel issue an editorial in support of controversial stadium subsidies for the city's new MLS team, while the Tampa Tribune issue an editorial in support of Jeffrey Vinik's plan for a new USF downtown medical school.

Go up to the Panhandle or down to the Keys and I bet there'd be far less support.  But it goes to show contentious earmarks are actually quite popular when they benefit your constituency.

But let's dig into the Sentinel's editorial for a minute. The board contends the project's top-ranking among 2015 stadium subsidy requests validates the teams' need for state tax dollars:
In slotting the Lions' den No. 1, (the state economist's) analysis confirms a previously sunny forecast: A 2012 economic study estimated the stadium would spur a $1.2 billion regional impact over the next 30 years. That includes 390 jobs, personal earnings of $565 million and tax revenue of $9.1 million.
Actually, the top-ranking only confirms the new stadium project is a better spend than three other questionable projects - NOT that it's a good use of state tax dollars.  Remember, legislators could choose not to award any money to pro teams this year.

I've spent weeks debunking all the dubious claims from the four teams seeking subsidies this year, and even in the case of the new MLS stadium, they're asking $60 million over 30 years from the state for 390 jobs.

That's $5,100 per year per full-time job.  That's not exactly a "sunny forecast" since pro sports jobs don't typically pay well.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Previewing St. Pete's City Council Workshop

The Times' Stephen Nohlgren previews a number of the difficult-to-pin-down economic impact questions St. Pete's city council will discuss tomorrow morning in their "we won't let you look in Tampa, but we'd still like you to look over here" workshop.

An excerpt:
The Rays employ about 300 people year-round, adding another 1,000 on game days.

According to Forbes magazine, the team earned $181 million in 2014, most of which came from outside St. Petersburg. Media contracts and communal Major League Baseball dollars provide the bulk of the Rays' income. Even the majority of fans come from outside Pinellas County.

Compared to the impact of other industries, however, little of that Rays' income spreads through the local economy, said Stan Geberer, senior associate at Fishkind & Associates, an Orlando economic consulting firm.
"Probably 85 per cent of revenues generated (by the Rays) have zero economic impact on St. Petersburg,'' Geberer said.
Sports bring psychic value, Geberer said. "It makes people feel good about their city.''
But if economic impact is all that counts, then St. Petersburg should invite the Rays to leave, he said. Almost any successful mixed-use development at the Trop "would well exceed any economic impact of sports.''
Then, the Times' editorial board added "5 baseball questions for St. Petersburg city council," which takes another shot at the city's leaders (see their rich history of criticisms here), but also reiterates some important questions:
1. How much public money are they willing to spend on a new stadium? A modern baseball stadium likely would cost at least $500 million. The Rays would have to make a significant contribution, and the county's resort tax would have to continue to help pay for a stadium. But to raise a half-billion dollars or more, the city probably would have to steer more public money than the roughly $6 million a year it has been paying on Tropicana Field bonds.

If council members don't want to spend as much as St. Petersburg does now on a baseball stadium, let alone more, it would be good to know that now.

2. Where should a new stadium be located in St. Petersburg? One of the city's advantages is that it controls 85 acres where Tropicana Field sits, and a new stadium could be built in the parking lots to the east of the dome. Some council members were disappointed that the Rays did not take a serious look at a private proposal to build a stadium in Carillon office park on the city's northern edge. Council members should discuss whether a new stadium should be downtown or whether other locations could work.

3. Would there be better uses for the Tropicana Field site? Those 85 acres could be very attractive to a developer who could use the blank slate to design a mix of retail, housing and business headquarters that would open up all sorts of new opportunities. The site would be worth tens of millions, and the potential to expand the city's tax base would be significant. Another option: Pursue more modest development and create a grand public space of parks and amenities that would complement the city's waterfront parks.

4. What is the potential economic impact for a new baseball stadium? The economic impact of the Rays playing at the Trop is difficult to measure but conservatively estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars each year. Around the dome, major-league baseball has not triggered as much redevelopment as many baseball supporters envisioned when the City Council voted in 1986 to build the stadium. But there are examples around the country of new stadiums planned or built that are part of larger developments, such as the new suburban home planned for the Atlanta Braves.

5. What should be the city's role after the Rays start looking at stadium sites? Before opening day in April, the mayor expects to present to the City Council a revised agreement that would enable the Rays to look at potential sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The council voted 5-3 against an earlier agreement in December because of concerns about development rights at the Trop before the Rays left, and a new version is expected to address those concerns. The Rays reasonably maintain they have to look throughout their core market for the best site, and the council should have approved an agreement to let them do that before scheduling this morning's discussion. But as long as they are talking, council members should discuss if and how they would like the city to be involved when the Rays actually start looking for a new home.
Finally, in case you missed it, here are the 3 things the Rays' Stadium Saga needs in 2015 from a couple months back.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tampa Council Candidates Talk Rays

Excerpts from a Tampa Tribune Q&A with Tampa City Council District 2 candidates:
If the Tampa Bay Rays get agreement to leave St. Petersburg, should public Community Redevelopment Area dollars or other taxes be used for a new stadium in Tampa?
♦ (Joseph) Citro
Tampa cannot afford to pay for a new stadium. Only after state, county, and ownership funds are secured should Tampa consider.

♦ (Julie) Jenkins
No. I think money should come from private sector.

♦ (Charlie) Miranda
In my opinion, the Rays will either remain in St. Petersburg or relocate to another area entirely. I do not believe relocating to Tampa or anywhere else in the area will solve the Ray’s attendance problem because they will have the same population and corporate base from which to draw. Additionally, it will be difficult to obtain any kind of public funding or subsidy at the same time we may be asking the public to support funding for mass transit.
And over in District 1, where Susan Long is challenging incumbent Mike Suarez:
Should the Tampa Bay Rays get agreement to leave St. Petersburg and move to Tampa, both candidates would support using community redevelopment funds to pay for street and sewer improvements similarly to how the city is planning to pay for infrastructure improvements needed for Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's proposed downtown remake of the area around the Amalie Arena.

But neither would support using city funds to pay for stadium construction.
“A stadium doesn't bring revenue or residents,” Long said. “I just don't see it being a cost-effective venture.”

Saturday, February 14, 2015


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Listen to the Anti-Stadium Subsidy Radio Ad Hitting Florida's Airwaves

Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Bros.-backed conservative "grass-roots" group in Tallahassee, has launched a radio campaign to convince Florida legislators not to hand out controversial stadium and film incentives.

"Florida legislators should be on watch - Americans for Prosperity will not let them off easy for their corporate welfare habit," said AFP Florida director, Chris Hudson, in an emailed statement. "The evidence is in: the only winners in the sports incentive game are the recipients. Taxpayers lose their money and no significant jobs or tourism is generated. Our lawmakers should be embarrassed for getting caught while stealing bases. Instead, some want to double down and spend even more. AFP will inform Floridians and help them hold their legislators accountable."

Previous coverage:
2/11/15 - Lobbying ramps up after rankings come in
2/10/15 - State economist ranks Orlando MLS application first
1/30/15 -
Lawmakers will do what Scott won't: rank projects
1/29/15 - Gov. Scott stumbles through stadium questions again
1/28/15 -
Stadium bill made it easier for teams to flee spring training
1/28/15 - Campaign contributions fuel pro teams' incentives
1/27/15 - Group want to end tax help for pro stadiums
1/26/15 - Fla's "new" subsidy process is no improvement so far
1/25/15 - Teams that get rejected by state renovate stadiums anyway
1/22/15 - Gov. Scott's non-answer answers on stadium subsidies

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Florida Announces New Spring Training Home for Nats, Astros...and Hopes They Won't Break Lease

Governor Rick Scott's office issued a press release Wednesday announcing the "Nationals and the Astros Will Keep Spring Training in Florida" for the next 30 years. However, the headline doesn't necessarily tell the whole story.

The deal still hinges on Florida's legislature approving a land-swap in Palm Beach County and $50 million in state subsidies over the next two decades. The entire two-team complex is expected to cost $135 million, with taxpayers covering the majority of it.

But despite the governor's proclaimed 30-year extension, 10 Investigates also revealed how the passing of last year's stadium subsidy bill, HB 7095, makes it easier for Major League Baseball teams to break their spring training leases by limiting the damages they'd have to pay to stray.

Governor Scott has maintained he supports incentives because they're necessary, but had no response to 10 Investigates' questions about teams' reliance on taxpayer subsidies.

Here is release:
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Governor Rick Scott today announced that the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros, whose leases come up for renewal next year, have chosen to stay in Florida. As part of this agreement, the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros will remain in Florida for the next 30 years and Florida will continue to retain its 15 spring training teams in the Grapefruit League. 
Governor Scott said, “Florida is proud to be the home of fifteen spring training teams, and we are excited to announce that the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros have chosen to stay in Florida for the next 30 years. Spring Training has helped to bring Florida families together, create jobs in our communities, and drive tourists to our state. Florida is undoubtedly the best state for baseball, and we look forward to many more years of Spring Training attracting visitors and creating opportunities for Florida families.”

In 2013 Governor Scott worked with the Legislature to create a program that provides more than $3 million annually to be used only for Spring Training facilities. These funds partner with local governments to provide a predictable funding stream to protect baseball in Florida, and help communities obtain long term leases with baseball franchises.

Mark D. Lerner, Vice Chairman & Principal Owner of the Washington Nationals, said, “We, at the Washington Nationals, appreciate Governor Scott’s commitment to keeping all fifteen major league baseball spring training venues in the Sunshine State ensuring that Florida remains the premier spring training destination.”

Jim Crane, Houston Astros Owner, said, “This would not be possible without the City of West Palm Beach, Palm Beach County, State leaders and the Governor working together. We're very excited to remain in Florida for spring training and we're looking forward to partnering with the Nationals, as well as the Cardinals, Marlins and Mets, to provide fans with the best spring training venue in the Country."

Danny Martell, Economic Council of Palm Beach County, said “If not for the vision and the hard work of Governor Rick Scott, Major League teams may be leaving the Sunshine State for Arizona. We are very proud that we have a Governor that has shown the leadership and boldness to keep all 15 teams in Florida, which will increase tourism and inject more jobs into our economy.”

Major League Baseball, and Florida Spring Training, has played an important role in attracting visitors to Florida for more than 125 years. The sports industry brings over $43 billion to Florida annually and accounts for 13.3 million visitors to the state each year.

Fallout From State Stadium Subsidies' "Rank-Gate"

I cringe over tacking the suffix "-gate" onto every mini-scandal these days, but what the hell, everyone else is doing it!

Yesterday, a state economist ranked the four stadium subsidy proposals seeking state funds this year, and no surprise, the new stadium project for Orlando City Soccer topped three renovation projects it is competing against.

What is slightly more surprising, however, was the last-place finish by Daytona International Speedway, a venue that undoubtedly draws more out-of-state visitors into Florida than either the Jaguars or Dolphins, who ranked second and third, respectively.

"We believe that we should be ranked second among the applicants," said DIS President Joie Chitwood III immediately afterward.  "We will send a detailed response in writing to legislative leadership to clarify our score and ranking."

Read between the lines, and DIS will double-down on its lobbying efforts this year, with potentially $90 million (over 30 years) in potential subsidies on the line.

UPDATE: Chitwood issued a letter claiming the state ranked Daytona's application incorrectly and the track would like to correct the scoring.

The irony is that this "competition" was instituted to remove lobbying from the award process and only give state dollars to pro teams that will provide appropriate ROI on the subsidies...which is arguably oxymoronic in the first place.

Meanwhile, even the state's economist who ranked the projects acknowledged the process was flawed and didn't properly take ROI into account.

"The evaluation and ranking criteria treats the incremental sales tax as no more important than any other criteria," economist Amy Baker wrote. "Future ranking criteria should emphasize the economic benefit to the state and attribute points based on increments and levels that are supported by economic reasoning."

We also saw reaction from the Jags, who e-mailed the Florida Times-Union a statement that read, in part, "This is good news for Jacksonville."

UPDATE: The News Service of Florida reports House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said it's "very possible" none of the projects get state money this year.  But he adds members are "being worked on by the interests that have a stake in this."  So much for eliminating the lobbying from the process.  Rumor is the Joint Legislative Budget Commission may meet next week to take up the issue.

Previous coverage:
2/10/15 - State economist ranks Orlando MLS application first
1/30/15 - Lawmakers will do what Scott won't: rank projects

1/29/15 - Gov. Scott stumbles through stadium questions again
1/28/15 -
Stadium bill made it easier for teams to flee spring training
1/28/15 - Campaign contributions fuel pro teams' incentives
1/27/15 - Group want to end tax help for pro stadiums
1/26/15 - Fla's "new" subsidy process is no improvement so far
1/25/15 - Teams that get rejected by state renovate stadiums anyway
1/22/15 - Gov. Scott's non-answer answers on stadium subsidies

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

State Ranks Orlando Soccer Application Far Ahead of Daytona, Miami, Jacksonville

Cross-posted from
After agreeing to legislative leaders’ requests to analyze and rank four applicants seeking sports incentives from the state, the Office of Economic and Demographic Research puts the applications from the City of Orlando and the City of Jacksonville at the top of the list, according to a documents first obtained by

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said late last month that the Legislature expected the Department of Economic Opportunity to review and rank the four applicants who are vying for $7 million in competitive grants. But the DEO argued that the new law passed by the Legislature doesn’t require the agency to actually evaluate the first batch of applications now pending.

“For whatever reason DEO believes they are not under an obligation to provide that information to us,” Crisafulli said in a statement. “It would be a great disservice to ask members to vote on these projects without an objective ranking.”

So in stepped in the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, which used the DEO’s Sports Development Program Application Evaluation and Ranking Criteria to rank the facilities.

After the numbers were crunched, the City of Oflando’s request placed first, followed by the City of Jacksonville’s, then South Florida Stadium, LLC, and finally, Daytona International Speedway.
See the application rankings here.

Previous coverage:
1/30/15 - Lawmakers will do what Gov. Scott won't: rank applications
1/29/15 - Gov. Scott stumbles through stadium questions again
1/28/15 -
Stadium bill also makes it easier for spring training teams to leave
1/28/15 - Campaign contributions fuel pro teams' incentives
1/27/15 - Group want to end tax help for pro stadiums
1/26/15 - Fla's "new" stadium subsidy process is no improvement so far
1/25/15 - Teams renovate stadiums even after getting rejected for tax $$
1/22/15 - Gov. Scott's non-answer answers on stadium subsidies

Monday, February 9, 2015

Smorgasbord: Marlins Want More Tax Money, Spring Training Updates, and More

A smorgasbord of good reads:
  1. Miami New Times: The Marlins are apparently haggling with their sugar daddy, Miami-Dade County, over $4.2 million in expenses.  Tim Elfrink starts the story with, "Three full seasons after moving into a ballpark financed by a deal many experts still consider the worst ever for local taxpayers..."
  2. Houston Chronicle: The Florida legislature is moving forward with a land-swap that will ultimately allow the Nationals and Astros to build a new $135 million spring training mega-complex in Palm Beach County.  After 20-30 years worth of financing, it looks like the state would be on the hook for $50 million, the county for $113 million, and the teams for $75 million.
  3. Wallethub: This is a press release, but its interesting - MLB is apparently suing a small internet company over their rather generic-looking logo.  Crain's Chicago Business reports MLB may be close to settling the suit "amicably."
  4. ESPN: Wanna see what kind of renovations the Dolphins want an additional $90 million in tax dollars for? Living rooms on the 30-yard-line! 
  5. Fangraphs: Mike Lortz, of @TBBaseballMkt fame, explores the Rays' troubles with the lack of fans living within 30 minutes of Tropicana Field.  You can also see my 2013 post on it for why a new stadium doesn't necessarily "fix" the problem.
  6. Field of Schemes: The new spending from new stadiums seldom pays for its bills.  Pass it on.

Rays President Addresses Elephants and Economists in Room

Thanks to loyal reader Scott Myers, who passed along the Q&A Rays' President Brian Auld held with the Economic Club of Tampa today.  Some key takeaways:

CLARIFICATION: Myers points out Auld indicated 5,000 fans per night might mean $15-20M in revenue per season; the profit, and thus payroll influence, would depend on the cost of the new stadium.
I'd call this a good start to my New Year's wish for the Rays: increased transparency.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Kriseman's Post-Meeting Comments...and What's Next

A statement just-released from St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, following his meeting with Rays' President Brian Auld today:
The Rays have always been collaborative partners in this process and this morning was a continuation of those good faith discussions.

The Mayor and Mr. Auld discussed the development rights issue and the spirit of the discussion, as it has always been, was positive. We look forward to having an agreement that Council can approve before Opening Day.
Sounds like the Rays aren't going to budge on the potentially-low payouts to St. Pete, which several councilmembers said were a sticking point for them.  But they may not have to since two members told me in December the redevelopment issue was their biggest sticking point.

So it sounds like Kriseman and Auld made some progress today, but you've got to wonder...why set another arbitrary deadline (Opening Day) that makes you look bad if you miss it?

ALSO READ: 3 Things the Rays' Stadium Saga Needs in 2015

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Obama Takes Aim at Tax Breaks for Athletic Donations, Stadium Construction

Kristi Dosh over at The Business of College Sports writes today that President Obama has proposed ending the tax-deduction for contributions to college athletic departments.   Currently, 80 percent of those donations are tax-deductible:
Would fans still donate if they no longer received that 80 percent tax deduction? One athletic director told me for my book Saturday Millionaires a couple of years ago that he thought donations would drop by as much as half without the deduction.

Would fans really be willing to give up their seats and all the years of points they’ve built up if they weren’t getting the tax deduction? I’m sure there would be some at the lower end of the scale who might not see it as such a good investment anymore, but I’m not wholly convinced it would have a major impact on giving.  I’d love to hear from those of you working in development in the comments section!
But even more interesting...Dosh notes the budget plan also calls for an end to tax-exempt bonds financing facilities for pro sports teams. 
The plan states debt to finance those facilities would be taxable if 10 percent or more of the facility is used for a private business (i.e., a professional sports team). Implementation is projected to be worth $542 million in tax revenue over ten years.
I've previously pointed out tax-exempt bonds are the leading mechanism for municipalities to finance stadium construction, since they offer lower interest rates than private teams could typically get themselves.  And Field of Schemes author Neil deMause has pointed out stadiums were never supposed to get tax-exempt bonds after passage of the 1986 Tax Reform Act, but sports teams found ways around it.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Edwards' Vision for 20k Rowdies Stadium May Mean Al Lang Retrofit

The Times' Charlie Frago has an update to Bill Edwards' push for a 18,000-20,000 seat soccer stadium, which may include expanding and retrofitting Al Lang Stadium, rather than a brand new complex {link to Times' story}:
Edwards said his ideas are preliminary, involve using vacant land on the western side of the stadium, and wouldn't increase the stadium's height or drastically increase its footprint.

Edwards said he didn't know how any expansion would be financed.

"It's just a pipe dream," he said in a phone interview.
An expansion of Al Lang Stadium, along with the addition of a hotel and conference center, would transform a key stretch of waterfront — a change that would require a referendum or a series of them.
Shadow of the Stadium's previous coverage of Edwards' plans include his interest in growing the team's stadium to MLS standards of 18,000-20,000 fans per game.

However, growing the fan base to that level may be just as hard as financing the construction; the Rowdies reportedly averaged just 4,301 fans this fall.  Edwards has hinted the stadium conditions are a big issue in drawing fans to the Downtown St. Pete venue, so we will see what some improvements this winter mean for the numbers.

As for the financing portion of it all, there are a lot of hungry mouths to compete with both at the state and local level.

In Pinellas County, there are many interests lobbying for bed tax dollars, possibly including the Rays as well as the Blue Jays, who are reportedly advancing along in their negotiations with the City of Dunedin on spring training facility upgrades.

And at the state level, I've been reporting how legislators are opening up state coffers for pro teams, making 13 million tax dollars available in annual commitments, which means $390 million in new tax dollars for stadiums over the next 30 years.

But the Rowdies - like the Blue Jays - will have to hurry since all the state money is likely to be claimed in the next 15 months or so.  And if they miss those dollars....well, the teams will just have to lobby the legislature to change the law again.