Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Kriseman Wants Tropicana Field 2.0 in St. Pete

With fans, elected leaders, and the Tampa Bay Rays anxious to commence a stadium search in Hillsborough County, the top elected official in St. Petersburg says he's anxious too: so he can prove to the region that the current stadium site, near Downtown St. Petersburg, would make an ideal site for the Rays' next stadium too.

"I don't know anywhere else that really has the land; has the funding; and has the highway access," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said of the 85-acre Tropicana Field site. "The last piece is the (development) happening in that area."

Kriseman has been pushing his city council to let the Rays look at stadium sites across the bay, confident his city's stadium potentials will stack up better. The mayor points to Downtown St. Pete's explosive growth, particularly in the "Edge" and "Grand Central" districts, immediately adjacent to Tropicana Field. Activity around the stadium is no longer limited to just Ferg's Sports Bar.

"You're talking about an area within walking distance of the heart of your downtown," Kriseman said, adding that 85 acres offer double the redevelopment potential of Jeff Vinik's 40-acre, $1 billion plans in Downtown Tampa.

Furthermore, building a new - but better - ballpark on the current stadium site would mean little-to-no land acquisition cost and outstanding infrastructure with two highways, I-375 and I-175, feeding straight from I-275 into St. Petersburg's downtown.

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But Kriseman has not been able to convince a majority of councilmembers to let the Rays first look in Hillsborough County. The team, locked into its current use agreement through 2027, has said it will not consider any stadium sites in Pinellas County until it can consider all stadium sites in Tampa Bay.

Meanwhile, the Rays' attendance continues to flounder, leading the league in futility again, with an average of 14,686 fans per game (lowest since 2005) heading into Tuesday night. Kriseman blames the troubles on Tampa highway construction and says despite the low attendance numbers at Tropicana Field, Hillsborough residents are warming up to the idea of crossing the bay for baseball.

"I think there's that pushback right now because it still isn't easy to get here because of the roadway system in Tampa," Kriseman said. "But I do think, like I said, that's going to be gone in another five years."

St. Petersburg's Chamber of Commerce, which has spent much of the eight-year-long stadium stalemate on the sidelines, is also getting behind the idea of a new, next-generation downtown St. Pete baseball stadium.

"You've got the fifth-largest city in the state of Florida. You've got the most Fortune 500 companies in the region located right around here," said the Chamber's chair-elect Greg Holden. "(But) I think St. Pete is a community that has to train its businesses (to support MLB)."

However, Holden said Pinellas County's available bed tax revenues and available land could make other sites along St. Petersburg's Northern border just as interesting for a new stadium.

For years, speculation and rumors have circulated that the downfall of greyhound racing in Florida could prompt the private owners of Derby Lane to sell their 130 acres along Gandy Blvd. Although the track is in the middle of its 90th racing season, its ownership is now acknowledging it would welcome bids to redevelop the property.

But whether anyone is interested in paying their yet-to-be-determined price is unknown.

"The door is open," Derby Lane spokeswoman Vera Rasnake told 10 Investigates, "but (the owners) have not been approached."

Derby Lane offers outstanding highway access, just a few miles from the Gandy Bridge.

Additionally, several miles of overpass construction should give drivers a seamless exit from I-275 to the track's front door. If the Selmon Expressway is extended Southbound along Gandy Blvd. in Tampa, drivers could soon reach Derby Lane from East Hillsborough County without encountering a single traffic light.

ALSO READ (2/3/15): Rays could move to Derby Lane
ALSO READ (7/22/10):
Mayor Foster offers up Derby Lane to Rays

While the track's footprint is big enough for countless mixed-use development concepts, the price tag for the land alone would likely be in the tens of millions of dollars. Employing 544 people, the track isn't exactly "turn-key" ready for baseball. And if the legislature ever warms up to the idea of slot machines at the track, its value could explode.

Derby Lane also isn't within St. Petersburg's city limits, so it is unclear if the city would be willing to continue funding stadium bonds at the same – or increased – levels.

For now, with no developers eager to jump on the opportunity, it appears the party most-willing to talk about Derby Lane's redevelopment potential is Derby Lane's ownership.

The Toytown development, located just East of I-275 and just South of Roosevelt Blvd., offers up 240 county-owned acres of almost-prime real estate, just 10 minutes from Westshore.

Why "almost-prime?" Toytown used to be a landfill and lots of questions remain about the ability to build on it. While the land may be free for the right developer, there's no telling how much extra it might cost to build on the unstable debris.

Yet just last week, Pinellas County commissioners voted last week to put out a Request for Negotiations (RFN) on the site.

"Interest in the development of the Toytown site has increased in recent months," the county's economic development director, Mike Meidel, wrote in a memo. He also told commissioners the county was recently approached with offers (WATCH – item 23b).

The last time the property went out to bid, developers had to include a sports complex in designs, which could include baseball.

"(The Rays) are a regional asset," Kriseman added, saying he could support whatever site the Rays determined to be the best. "So if that means they relocate to Toytown...it simply means I have 85 acres now (at the current stadium site) that I can put back in play and redevelop."

But Kriseman knows Pinellas County sites have a big advantage over Hillsborough County sites because of robust tourist tax revenues and the ability to finance hundreds of millions of dollars in new construction without creating "new" taxes.

As 10 Investigates reported several times over the years, St. Pete and Pinellas County could likely cover upwards of $150 million in new construction just from existing revenue streams. The county is also on the verge of increasing its bed tax to 6% - a luxury afforded only to the state's top tourism destinations, of which Hillsborough County currently is not.

The additional 1 cent tax - primarily paid by tourists - could bond an additional $90 million or so for stadium construction. That could put public contributions at $240 million locally, quite possibly enough to help the team build a new stadium.

ALSO READ (11-19-12): St. Pete, Tampa chambers study ballpark finances

While all the aforementioned tax dollars could go toward other city and county projects, elected and business leaders seem to have an appetite for more baseball and the fans it draws from all over the region.

"We all know there's a financial advantage here," Holden said, indicating businesses and developers might share in the cost of a stadium. "You share some of the infrastructure cost and you look at the ingress/egress here and the potential for tying in...transportation, it really presents a compelling position location-wise and financially."

The Tampa Bay Rays declined comment on this story and have repeatedly said they wouldn't consider any sites in Tampa Bay until they could consider all sites in Tampa Bay. There are no signs St. Petersburg's council will allow a region-wide search before the team changes its offer or several councilmembers are term-limited out of office later this year.

But behind-the-scenes, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan has said the county is "ready" with search and finance teams the minute they get the go-ahead.

Free, undeveloped land appears scarce in prime areas, although rumors continue to fly around potential property for sale in the city's urban core.


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  1. Thanks Noah - So, no real change in anything locally, really.

    Choices are:

    Stay put at the Trop site
    Go to the dogs
    Go to the dumps

    Quite appealing local choices.....

    1. So, Noah - will WTSP pay for your passport and travel to cover the home-team Rays in Montreal?

    2. That was a good one. Almost a cheap shot, but legal one.

  2. Lol, the Rays won't be playing in Montreal. Too funny. Montreal might get a AAA affiliate in the next 50 years! Lol.

    1. This is probably the best comment that was written on this blog so far.

      In Montreal, when we read such comment, we do understand why the Trop. is empty.

    2. To Anon @8;45 - yeah you keep saying 40, 50 years... for Montreal to get an MLB team back... the reality is closer than you think or would like to admit... and don't bother with getting that passport to go see them... You and the "millions of other Rays fans" can keep doing what you always have - not attend but watch them on TV

      Au revoir

    3. BTW, 51,176 fans at the Big O yesterday night for the FIFA2015, USA vs Germany. USA won 2-0, good for them.

      Lots and lots of US tourists in Montreal for this game. It was spectacular downtown Montreal, coming out for Metro stations with their shirts, flags, hats, ...

      Same will happen if Montreal get a baseball team. Tons of tourists will come in town to watch the games as well as tons of Montrealers.

      How many tourists were at the Trop. yesterday at the Rays game?

      Is it still funny?

    4. How many tourists actually visit Tampa? Very few compared to say, Orlando or even Miami and they can't even draw very well AND they have a new stadium!

      Face facts - Florida is best for Spring Training baseball. Not for MLB

    5. "You and the "millions of other Rays fans" can keep doing what you always have - not attend but watch them on TV"

      Ouch! Burn! Well played.

  3. Noah, why would Nurse even bring Derby Lane up at the last workshop if it wasn't part of outer St Pete?

    1. My take on it is Nurse is behind (in favour of) the Trop. site re-development and do understand that Rays don't want to stay in St-Pete (it is clear from all the comments made so far by Auld and Sternberg).

      Otherwise, why all those requests from Sternberg to look elsewhere if the Trop. site is so good?

      So he's probably realistic about the situation and the fact that Rays better stay within the region rather than moving up North the I-275 with nothing left for the local/region economy.

    2. What comments are those?

    3. First one: “One of the things that I heard loud and clear from Brian Auld today is that you want to stay here, you want to stay in the region, and that you’re committed to this,” Foster said. “But one of the things you said to me in my office is you’re still not sure that this region will work out. And I’d like to hear a little bit more about that.”


    4. Second one: Amid tepid attendance, the Rays have said since 2010 that Tropicana Field cannot support baseball in the long run, so they want to scour the entire bay area for a "pitch perfect" replacement. The city has so far refused to let the team explore Hillsborough County options and the Rays have so far refused to negotiate solely on St. Petersburg sites.


    5. Third one in 2010: “If I were just coming into this, and you dropped me in the middle of the United States, this isn’t going to be one of the top five markets that doesn’t have baseball,” Sternberg said. “But we’re here. Our fans are here.”

      Wait, you say. There are five markets better than this one? Five empty markets?

      “Yes,” Sternberg said.


      “At least five,” he said.

      There are places he could move, Sternberg said, where the Rays would be among baseball’s best 10 markets. However, he says, he is thinking about only Tampa Bay.


    6. Bottom line: It may be only threats to better negotiate a new stadium, but he said what he said. And when you say some of those things publicly, you must live with it or clarify the statements.

      And if it was only a smoke screen, then he will loose all his credibility to negotiate something in the future.

      So Sternberg will have no choice but selling the Rays and let the new owner do the what needs to be done in order to move the team (as Sternberg said back in December 2014):

      "I'm not leaving. I'm not moving this team. I'm not taking this team out of the area. But that's me,'' Sternberg said at baseball's winter meetings in San Diego. "The chances of me owning this team in 2023 if we don't have a new stadium are probably nil. Somebody else will take it and move it. It's not a threat, just the reality. I won't be sitting here 10 years from now waiting it out to move the team.''


    7. Bienvenue à Montréal!

      For service in English, press 1.

    8. Nurse is a proponent of redeveloping the downtown land into something other than baseball.

  4. And yet you forget the most important comment:

    "With his disparaging comments about St. Pete and the Tampa Bay community at large, Sternberg was already beginning to enter Hugh Culverhouse territory. And when his company (it’s not just a baseball team) wants the taxpayers of St. Petersburg to walk away from an ironclad agreement, he can’t be bothered to show up at City Hall?!?"

    Read between the lines... Stu wants out of Tampa, out of FL.

    He's probably already looking at houses in Montreal and learning to speak proper French (unlike the "French" he's currently speaking in Tampa - roughly translating to "eff you, merde, hosti tabernac"

    1. I agree. If St-Pete is "Pitch Perfect", then Sternberg should have been negotiating something with them for a long time.

      So why does he need to look elsewhere? Because he's convinced that St-Pete is not the right place. No vision, no plan, no project that will make St-Pete a workable land/site.

      So Sternberg is asking to look elsewhere in order to make a move. Of course, Tampa Bay must be the first region to look at. But that does not mean Tampa Bay is Pitch Perfect. Pitch Perfect means mass transportation, financing, site location, concentration of corporations, commitment of the fans/community to buy tickets.

      This is my definition of Pitch Perfect. And Tampa Bay, as a region is far far away from this definition. Lot's of those criteria are not even covered but real plans, actions or solutions.

  5. Low class St. Pete just does not get it. Ridiculous city government and ignorant citizens.

    1. Oh, you're a Montreal shrill. Good Luck.

    2. Oh, you're a Tampa Bay TV watcher. Good Luck with learning french terms for baseball.

    3. While the topic is brought up, I recommend the book from Jonah Keri:

      Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos


      Page 58, very good translation in French of all the major baseball terms.

    4. To be fair, the "St Pete is low class" guy has been here longer than the Montreal rumors.

    5. That "low-class" comment was just being mean-spirited.

      Having said that, Rays fans, in particular those who do not attend the games are just cheapos and irrelevant to this stadium discussion.... They may contribute to good TV revenues and ratings but that will NOT justify building a stadium. A TV studio with the illusion of a new ball park maybe... but not a new stadium!

    6. I agree that we could all do without the name calling. What I meant was that I doubt "low class guy" is from Montreal, as suggested above, as he's been posting on here long before any Rays to Montreal rumors surfaced.

      Either way, I'm not thrilled by any of the suggested areas for a new stadium, in the sense that I can't see them helping attendance in the long term. Are there any locals that see any of these spots as a better alternative to the Trop site, or do you think that the Mayor is grasping at straws?

    7. I've got a place in Clearwater - and have a half season ticket package - the first post above is pretty spot regarding locations - it's either at the dumps, at the track or stay put - none of which are convenient, easy to develop or even worthy of drawing after the home opener. Trop is relatively convenient - to a degree, but it's not ideal and the immediate area is pitiful. The highways are a mess.

      As much as I like the Rays, it's sad to see an empty stadium.

      I went to see the Expos several times in Montreal - and they about 20,000 people one weekend and the noise and enthusiasm they displayed was better than any other park I have been too filled at twice as many fans.... part acoustics of the Olympic Stadium and all crowd - amazing!

      I don't really think there's any *reasonable* location for a new stadium in the area that will draw the fans on a regular basis - any location will require major marking and major road work to make it work. And it would have to be convenient enough for folks from both Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties...

      Regardless of location, I just don't see this working out long term. A move is inevitable. Rather they go sooner rather than later - so they can get a decent stadium in Montreal and the Trop can reap the benefits of redevelopment asap.

  6. Opposes government healthcare for poor people, supports government stadiums for rich people. #lolchamber Noticeably absent: how any of this will change attendance. Smartly, no one wants to be on record making predictions.

  7. The idea that this team will be playing in St. Petersburg after their lease at Tropicana Field expires is LAUGHABLE. The end is near no matter what the Mayor or City Council feeds to the press. Florida hasn't proven itself as anything more than a spring training state and there's nothing to suggest that will change. A stadium at the current dog track site won't eliminate the problem of bridges separating counties. Build it in Pinellas County and they still won't come.

    1. Even when there is more fans at the Trop. (like this afternoon against the Indians), good play from the Indians got more OH! and AH! than the ones from the Rays.

      At least, TB is getting some tourists for Rays games.

    2. Jeff - I think the exit will be considerably sooner than 2027! It has to be. For the Rays' sake but more importantly for St Pete's sake...They stand to make a lot more money thru redeveloping the site than forcing the Rays to stay

    3. St-Pete council must send the message that the Trop. site is open for development. But to do so, a MOU must be signed with an exit compensation for the city. And that means St-Pete must be ready to let the Rays go anywhere, not only in TB region.

      Promoters/investors will not be excited about the site until then.

    4. And that's the issue - the "exit compensation" - City Council think they are entitled to the moon and more! They need to do what is right and just them go!

    5. Despite my thoughts on the future of baseball in St. Petersburg I do feel the Rays owe the city "exit compensation". The northerners (current ownership group) agreed to operate the franchise under the terms of the current lease and should be held to those terms. No matter what happens they're going to make money. Despite the sad state of attendance the value of the franchise has increased and only will be more valuable as local and national TV rights $$$$ continue to increase. I'm not sure when the current local contract expires but based on ratings it's a safe guess Rays management is already looking at a huge increase in revenue when their broadcast contracts are up for bid or renewal.,

    6. The compensation should be based on current attendance figures and it's impact - nothing more.

    7. If the Rays were to move, surely in addition to paying out the lease at the Trop, would they also have to pay out their TV contract? Surely that would be worth a bit as well?

    8. and don't call me Shirley :P

  8. The TV contract will follow them to Montreal - especially since everyone knows that the Tampa folks will still be watching them - no change there.

    1. If only the team could get more "Tampa folks" to travel to St. Petersburg to watch their team play live and in person. If that were the case we might not be having this debate.

  9. Maybe TPA to YUL will be more of an incentive to travel.... Mind you, they'll need passports for that and we all know how many folks in the US have those...nah, TV it is.

  10. 8. Speaking of Montreal, the city is getting its financial plan together for plans for a downtown ballpark. With Tampa Bay attendance getting worse by the year and Oakland’s ballpark situation also in limbo, Montreal may have a good shot at a relocated team.


    1. Thanks for the link. #7 And Red Sox in MTL next spring? Question is against the Jays or another team?

    2. There's also talk about regular season games being played in Montreal next year. My guess for teams would be BoSox, A's, Rays (as visitors only), Jays, O's and Mets....possibly ChiSox

    3. Montreal are receiving calls from MLB owners these days (at least 10 teams last year), not the opposite.

      Rays vs Cleveland could be an interesting match, considering that with 40 000 fans per game (maybe more), that's a lot of $$$ for those two teams, especially in end of June.

      Stay tuned!

    4. You know, it would be a lot easier to follow everyone's threads if you would avoid Anonymous posts....

    5. That's a brilliant suggestion, Noah!

      So, any other tidbits on the stadium discussions for the Rays?

  11. While 2017 would be the perfect year for baseball's return to Montreal ~ helping celebrate Montreal's 375th Anniversary, I think it's not far-fetched to anticipate a team by 2018 in Montreal and a new stadium ready by 2020...