Saturday, June 13, 2015

7 Assumptions the Tampa Bay Times Crammed into One Rays Stadium Editorial

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board came out with is now-monthly criticism of the St. Petersburg councilmembers who oppose loosening up their grip on the Rays' long-term contract.

The latest installment maintains St. Pete would profit by letting the Rays leave and redeveloping Tropicana Field into something else.  The\ board said delaying the process of letting the team leave is "financially irresponsible."
This editorial comes with a pretty graph too!

It's not the most outrageous claim since some economists believe anything other than baseball is a better use of land than baseball.  But in supporting its claim, the editorial board makes a LOT of assumptions to substantiate it:

Assumption 1: St. Pete would be able to replace Tropicana Field with a huge development within three years of the Rays leaving in 2020
Remember how big of a deal Tampa made about it's $1 billion Jeff Vinik/Bill Gates redevelopment news? That's a lot of spending. So even though 85 urban acres in St. Pete is promising and exciting, St. Pete doesn't exactly have anyone lining up yet to drop $1 billion in development right now.  If it did, getting that fifth vote from city council would be a cinch.

The Times is wrong to assume $1 billion in development is automatic;  it's wrong to assume there's a limitless demand for new residential, commercial, and retail in St. Pete;  and it's wrong to assume there's zero chance of another building bubble that could derail development.

Assumption 2: Any developer interested in the Trop site would not consider building anywhere else in St. Pete
The Times is assuming the huge benefits from new development would only come once the Trop site is cleared.  But if a developer with money has in interest in Downtown St. Pete, he or she will likely find a smaller piece(s) of property to work with in the meantime.  That means the city isn't missing out on the entirety of the guesstimated $1 billion worth of development by keeping MLB right now.

Assumption 3: Trop redevelopment would bring $30M/yr to the city by 2023, climbing to (and past) $100M/yr in 2027
To the Times' credit, the editorial includes significant sourcing of its methodology.  But these numbers are just guesstimates and don't factor any potential risk from an economic slowdown.

Assumption 4a: The Rays would not relocate anywhere else within the City of St. Pete
The Times calculations assume the economic benefit from the team would cease in 2027.  However, if the city retained the Rays by building a new stadium in the Gateway/Mid-Pinellas region a decade from now, the assumed revenues from MLB-related activities would continue past 2027.

Assumption 4b: The Rays would not relocate anywhere else within the City of St. Pete
On the other side of the coin, if St Pete lets the Rays start planning for a new 2020 stadium and the city has to spend new tax dollars on a stadium in a few years - something that's a real possibility given the advantages of the Toytown, Derby Lane, or other mid-Pinellas sites - any economic improvements from redeveloping The Trop would be negated by the tens of millions spent from 2020-2027 on a new stadium.  Of course, the Times didn't factor this into its graphic.

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Assumption 5: There is no better deal available to St. Pete than the one currently on the table.

The editorial writes, "It is foolish to harp on how much the Rays should pay to for the opportunity to look, or to focus solely on the team's economic impact on the city. The big money is in the economic impact of redeveloping 85 acres."  While a few million dollars here or there seems petty in the big picture, those who aren't convinced redeveloping the Trop is a guaranteed billion bucks (for any of the above reasons) may have good reason to hold out for a more legit business offer from the Rays.

Assumption 6: Just about anything other than baseball would be more profitable to the city than baseball. 
The Times' most convincing case is that St. Pete businesses may be better off without baseball.  It's a topic this blog has delved into at great lengthThe Rays even admit professional baseball is a retail business, suggesting poor jobs and wages compared to year-round businesses.

So under those about a similar chart with Tampa's opportunity costs with and without a stadium?  Would baseball be the highest-and-best-use of Tampa land?  Using the same metrics from this editorial, the answer is a resounding "no."

Then again, it's never hard to find certain sets of statistics and assumptions to support your argument. 

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


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  1. Currently the Rays divert dollars from Tampa to St. Pete to the extent that they draw Tampa folks to the Trop, So if a new stadium gets built in Tampa, the reverse will come true. And the more successful that Rays are in the hypothetical new stadium, the more of a drain it will be on St. Pete. It is a zero sum game in this regard.

  2. Finally, the debate will continue with real assumptions, studies and numbers for the Trop. site.

    I believe that the potential of the site was never analyzed appropriately and the focus on the UA (a contract is a contract) depict a picture where council members have no vision of their town.

    It's written in the sky, the Rays will leave St-Pete. The next question is does the Rays want to stay in the TB region with no vision regarding public transportation, with a plan to build a stadium (if it make sense for the communities)?

    Knowing that attendances are an important issue for the region (it is not clear that a new location in TB will attract more fans), all the factors must be weighted quickly in order to determine the action plan.

    Negotiate a MOU with 2 steps and dates (TB region only as step one and elsewhere as step 2) ASAP is the best scenario for St-Pete. Otherwise, St-Pete will loose way more that what they will gain for the remaining number of years of the UA.

  3. The point still stands that unless a decision is made to begin developing the Trop site - with or without the Rays, there will begin to be a negative economic impact...

    St Pete council members are acting like the are defending the city, but in reality are hurting it by not seeing the bigger picture. The Rays WANT OUT, the fans don't come out and other areas are interested.... so, hang on to the alleged $60M (my guess is the impact is far less than that and decreasing on avg by at least 20%/yr) for another decade and forego the redevelopment benefits until the Rays actually do leave... by which time there will be very little interest in the Trop area and will take another decade or so to develop.... with no money coming in. Yeah, that's a win for the city!

  4. Another article that seems to think that what other cities are doing is similar to the situation to TB...

    The reality here is the agreement that the Rays have is no longer tenable for either the team nor St Pete.....

    The city needs to redevelop the area around the Trop to maximise economic benefits for the area... with or without the Rays and soon! The Rays want no part of the Trop - they want OUT and now.... so, let them go and reap the other benefits from redeveloping the area now. The longer they try to hold on to an unwilling participant the less leverage St Pete will have down the road all whilst foregoing the benefits of a developed Trop.

    Will city council actually tell their voters the truth when it comes to voting time? Highly unlikely... they will not posit the reality - that the area will benefit more if redeveloped now and letting the Rays look for a stadium in TB. Because unless they resolve this now, come 2027 - the reality will be:

    - an undeveloped Trop (bc of the stalemate) thereby losing millions in benefits and taxes and new revenue

    - no new stadium in the region for the Rays

    - dwindling attendance for Rays (thereby negating any of the revenue from the team being there)

    - the Rays moving to another city...

  5. I agree that turning the site into a different attraction would be the best option.

  6. Replies
    1. St Pete's is NOT an option the Rays want to consider... but if it were, it would be fitting... building on top of a former garbage dump