Friday, January 15, 2016

St. Pete's Approved Rays Deal - the Day After

After St. Pete council approved the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) yesterday to allow the Rays to explore stadium sites anywhere in Hillsborough or Pinellas counties, there are a few answers to the "what's next" question.

Time to Look at LocationsThe floodgates have opened for anyone looking to sell their dog track, parking lot, or flea market! Everyone's got a great location for the Rays to play! In fact, within minutes of St. Pete's MOU approval, the Tampa Bay Times published an analysis of eight of the possibilities in Tampa.

Except every one of the locations mentioned in the article comes with a few major roadblocks.

And a lot of those roadblocks have to do with the fact that neither Hillsborough County nor the city of Tampa have many dollars to contribute toward a new stadium.  At least, not without taking away funds from other community needs...which leads us to...

...and Time to Talk Money
Stu Sternberg told my 10 News WTSP colleague Kendra Conlon yesterday he had "no expectations" regarding how a new Rays stadium could be financed.  So apparently, little has changed since 2013 when he said he had no idea what kind of new revenues a new stadium could produce for the team.

Isn't that the reason we're talking about a new stadium in the first place???
That's why the next question needs to be the very important question of: how much will the Rays contribute?  The team has routinely dodged that question, and we all know it's the ONLY question about whether Tampa will be the team's next home.

If St. Pete and Tampa keep talking money...and allowing the Rays to avoid talking money...elected officials are just negotiating against themselves.  And MLB loves when you do that.

Because if Tampa Bay lets the Rays lead this conversation and pick their "pitch-perfect" spot without addressing the financing details until they say "make this happen...or else," the cost to taxpayers is going to get a lot greater than if we address the money issue at the front end, thereby eliminating sites that may be cost-prohibitive.

St. Pete is Negotiating Against Itself
Mayor Rick Kriseman says St. Pete will clearly have the best financing package available for a possible new stadium.  And he's right.  A new stadium may even help an exploding and revitalized downtown continue its impressive trajectory.

But two councilmembers may have brought up a legit concern yesterday when they pointed out the newly-tweaked MOU negotiates away some of the possible redevelopment rights to the Tropicana Field land, when the original contract - and the original MOU - only included redevelopment rights until the day the Rays left the dome, conceivably, even if they built a new facility next door.  Kriseman even posted about it on Facebook.

Now, this could all be a moot point if the Rays don't take the risky leap of faith on a second Downtown St. Pete stadium.  But possibly more consequential, is if St. Pete and Tampa get in any sort of unofficial bidding war over a new stadium, St. Pete just upped the ante already with tens of millions of additional incentives to stay in St. Pete.

So if the city builds a redeveloped Tropicana Field 2.0, it's going to cost more than it did before. Instead of using all the redevelopment revenue to help subsidize the city's cost of stadium construction...half of it will now subsidize the Rays' cost of construction if they stay.

Ball's in Court of Hagan, Buckhorn

Things are about to get fun/tough for Hillsborough County's stadium cheerleader-in-chief, Commissioner Ken Hagan, who has supplanted Mayor Bob Buckhorn as the politician committed to making the money for a stadium work in Tampa.

According to the Tampa Tribune, Hagan already had a conference call yesterday with county staff and the law firm they hired in 2014 to help facilitate a stadium search.  And he's been burning up the airwaves for years at every opportunity to talk about the Rays.

Hagan once promised no tax dollars for a baseball stadium...then he said no "new" tax dollars...and most recently, he said only tax dollars for infrastructure around a stadium.  So we'll see how that continues to evolve.

Meanwhile, Buckhorn told me the process will be a methodical one and he doesn't expect to be mayor when the Rays finally open their new home.  His term ends in 2019.

Montreal Encouraged
As excited as Rays fans - and executives - were about yesterday's vote, apparently fans in Montreal saw it as a way for the team to exhaust any hope of a long-term solution in Tampa Bay, according to my former Beanpot beat-writing colleague Jon Paul Morosi.  Although I again remind Morosi & all readers that the Rays are not willing to compensate St. Pete for the final years of their Trop deal if they leave before 2027.

Unrelenting Editorial Board Finally Satisfied
The Times finally got what it wanted - the Rays free of their ironclad contract.  Maybe the editors are right when they say, "It is a vote of confidence in the future and a rejection of the status quo." 

They probably aren't right when they've supported the team's low payouts and St. Pete's major concessions to allow this search...and they definitely weren't right for the last five years when they claimed St. Pete was down to its "last chance" to save the Rays and the region was only losing leverage

But I did enjoy reading this excerpt:
The team should expect to make a significant contribution, and it would help if a developer chips in as part of a larger vision. The last time Hillsborough County negotiated a big stadium deal was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and that one tilted toward the team. Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan is eager to lead this effort, but it may be up to Mayor Bob Buckhorn to ensure taxpayers are adequately protected. The push to help the Rays with site selection and create a financing package should be open and transparent, and taxpayers should have a voice.
Does that mean we have hope of the editorial board revisiting its calls for the Rays to open their books and demonstrate real need for the subsidies they're sure to ask for???

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  2. If Montreal gets a team, the first thing I'll do is buy a ticket for the first game and a ticket to see John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Scott Weiland. I can't wait!

    1. How about you just stay put under your rock

    2. More progress! You actually signed in, Mr Personal Email, and you are slightly diversifying your pointless remarks. What a week!

  3. The same day, Buckhorn went to a Tampa meeting of chamber of commerce leaders from the United States and Canada. Seeing the head of the Montreal chamber, he delivered a message.

    "I told him if he doesn't stay away from our Rays, I was going to have him Tased before he left."

    How very American... The threat of violence.. ha. Why do I think that was meant for the journalists only?

    1. Buckhorn is jokester, whose one-line comments can easily be taken out of context by those not at the event or not familiar with his tendencies.

    2. I don't doubt that Buckhorn is quite a character Noah.

      However, the fact that Michel Leblanc, the head of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal but also the head of Montreal Homerun Project inc. as part of Montreal Baseball Project with Warren Cromartie, is targeted but such comment is an indication that more moves were made (or are planed to be made) by the Montreal investors.

      The fact that Rays' challenge is a four dimensional matrix (a site need to be identify, with the right funding and with a public transportation plan with funding as well) indicate that more efforts will be deploy outside the field in the next 3 years than on the field.

      If promoters are lining up for one or two sites, then, the Rays and the region may have a good chance to move forward wit a viable project.

    3. @Noah - The above is directly from TBO - so obviously journalists familiar with Fuckhorn were there... they printed his "soundbite"