Sunday, August 28, 2016

Rays Stadium as Tallahassee Bargaining Chip?

Last Friday, I reported powerful State Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Seminole) was getting involved in the Rays' stadium campaign, with undisclosed meetings set up for this coming week.
Latvala has shown a willingness to put regional priorities ahead of parochial battles...and state dollars might be the only way Hillsborough could ever afford to build a stadium for the Rays.  But all things considered, Latvala would probably prefer to see a new Rays stadium in Pinellas.

He wouldn't provide much information about his discussions moving forward, but the state might be able to contribute money directly toward stadium construction (as it has for numerous other pro and college stadiums). It also might be able to orchestrate a more complex maneuver:

Latvala is close to the family that owns Derby Lane, which contributed $50,000 to his PAC in 2014, and he's worked over the years to try and prop up the seemingly-doomed kennel-racing side of Florida's gambling industry.  Could there be pari-mutuel concessions so a potential "Derby Lane Card Room" wouldn't need its race track any more and could then just donate 100 of its 130 acres to a baseball team looking for land?  Pure speculation.

But it wouldn't be an enormous stretch given Latvala's record of also receiving contributions from numerous pro teams (incl. $20,000 from the Rays) and helping to bolster the state's spending for spring training facilities as well as its spending on year-round sports facilities a year later.

Latvala will be the Senate Appropriations Chair next year, and if he chooses to spend his political capital on a stadium effort, he could potentially ram a Rays subsidy through just as former Senate Appropriations Chair J.D. Alexander strong-armed the legislature into creating the unpopular Florida Polytechnic University in 2012.

But opposite Latvala on the subsidy issue is incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O' Lakes), one of Tallahassee's fiercest critics of stadium subsidies. He's even gone so far to suggest the state should have a constitutional amendment prohibiting subsidies for pro sports teams.

So like all issues in Tallahassee, it will be a slow-played battle of wits and wills.  That could mean the Rays become a bargaining chip in one of the many Latvala vs. Corcoran battles on-tap for the next two years.
You can never predict how those turn out....but a little bit of lobbying and good ole-fashioned check-writing to political committees never hurts!

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Stadium Subsidy ROI: Rich for Teams; Poor for Taxpayers

Floridians aren't quite paying enough attention to what's happening in North Texas, as the city of Arlington moves forward with a $519M referendum for a modern Rangers stadium to replace their existing modern Rangers stadium...because we are now learning baseball in hot climates requires a roof.

By all accounts, Arlington is overpaying to avoid the scary thought of possibly "losing" the Rangers to Dallas, just 30 minutes away....even though there doesn't appear to be a lot of indication relocation was either imminent or likely.  Oh, and the team's owners are billionaire oil magnates.

Tip o' the hat to my investigative counterparts at WFAA-TV for doing great watchdog work on a lease that has seven more years left on it. 
Regardless of what you think about Arlington's plan, it's a great reminder that nobody can make money by building a stadium - that's why teams rely on the public to do it for them.  Neil deMause points out "we’re already looking at Arlington putting down at least $519 million for a return of at most $60 million."

Basically, a city of Arlington analysis showed its investment would generate more tax dollars without new Texas Rangers stadium.

Sound familiar Tampa Bay?

It should - it echoes the exact thing Rays owner Stu Sternberg told St. Pete a year ago: that it's in the taxpayers' "best interest to get the (Trop) land back" and redevelop it as something other than baseball.

And devout readers of this blog will remember my post about how much economic activity Tampa might lose if it were to spend tax dollars on a new stadium downtown (using the Tampa Bay Times' own fuzzy math):

Also worth noting: a recent study in San Diego puts the ROI on that city's proposed stadium/convention center at just three cents on the dollar!

And, if you need any more evidence that stadiums don't generate profits and are only called "public" facilities so they can avoid paying property and construction taxes....Maricopa County is selling off the Diamondbacks' ballpark - lock, stock, & barrel - for only $60 million dollars, a fraction of what the stadium cost to build 18 years ago.

That's a pretty crappy return on your real estate investment during a period when the franchise's value has grown exponentially.  But the politicians out in the desert may actually have a pretty decent idea about cutting their losses.

It's a much better idea than, say, fighting with the public when you need their support for a stadium referendum:

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Where Pinellas Commission Candidates Stand on a New Rays Stadium

While select leaders - on both sides of Tampa Bay - debate the future of the Rays, any possible public funding for a new stadium will ultimately require the approval of either the Hillsborough or Pinellas County commissions.

10News WTSP asked each candidate running for a commission seat this year about his or her opinions on a new stadium. Below is a summary of their answers. Primary day is August 30 with general elections in November.

2016: Where Hillsborough BOCC candidates stand
2014: Where Hillsborough BOCC candidates stand
2014: Where Pinellas BOCC candidates stand
2012: Where Hillsborough BOCC candidates stand
2010: Where Hillsborough BOCC candidates stand

* = incumbent
Write-in candidates were not included.

District 1 (No Election)
Janet Long* (D) – An outspoken advocate of the commission’s increased role with stadium negotiations, Long said she had opinions on where a stadium should go and how it should be funded...but wouldn’t elaborate much on either idea. She has frequently criticized fellow Democrat and St. Pete mayor Rick Kriseman for not bringing the county commission into the stadium conversation. And she suggested state dollars might be on the table if Pinellas County’s bed taxes weren’t enough public dollars to fund a new stadium.

District 3
Mike Mikurak (R) – Challenging the incumbent commission chair, Mikurak is openly critical of the role the commission has played in discussions so far and what he considers a lack of planning legwork to this point. “There is also little forecasting as to what will happen if it moves to Tampa which is a very real possibility,” Mikurak said. But on the topic of whether public resources should be committed toward a new Rays stadium in Pinellas County, Mikurak said it would depend on “verifiable investment benefits,” which are typically quite subjective when it comes to stadiums. He said he was open to using bed tax dollars for a stadium to “invest & promote sustainable jobs”, but “limited taxpayer resources should not be used for the sole benefit of private sector business.”

Charlie Justice* (D) – The sitting commission chair, Justice has supported the county’s methodical approach toward helping the Rays explore more than a dozen potential stadium sites from Oldsmar to Derby Lane to Downtown St. Petersburg and explained, “Commission and Administrator are in frequent communication with the team as they perform their due diligence” and the process can be slow and frustrating, “but it is a generational decision and we must make the right one.” Justice expressed confidence that the county would have enough revenue in its robust bed tax collections to help fund a new stadium without any additional tax revenues and his only preferred site was one “where the team will be successful in building a strong attendance base.”

District 5 (No Election)
Karen Seel* (R) – An incumbent commissioner, Seel expressed her confidence in the county’s current baseball plan, adding that she had no personal preference for a future stadium location. She said she would “only support using limited amount of bed taxes only from and in Pinellas County” and that she would like to see the team go through the county’s new capital funding process to make their case for public financing. Seel also said she’d like to see any new stadium include features that could be “widely used by the community.”

District 7 (No Election)
Ken Welch* (D) – Longtime commissioner Ken Welch, representing most of St. Petersburg, has quietly played an active role in stadium discussions over the years. He advocated for the county to hold off on committing bed tax dollars to other major projects until the Rays stadium is settled. Pinellas County’s bed tax might bond upwards of $200 million in stadium construction. Welch also lobbied for St. Petersburg to include the county in stadium discussions, resulting in his appointment to the city’s “Baseball Forever” campaign group, aimed at keeping the Rays in the city for decades to come.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Secret Rays Tampa Stadium Talks to Remain Secret for a While

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the officials in talks with the Rays about a potential new stadium in Hillsborough County are going out of their way to avoid creating public records and giving notice of their meetings with the team for good reason.

"Anytime you start talking real estate and locations, the price goes up," Buckhorn said, adding that the group has not spent much time yet addressing perhaps the biggest challenge of a Tampa stadium: how to pay for it.

FACEBOOK: Entire exchange with Mayor Buckhorn

On Monday, the mayor met with the Rays and several other local leaders, including Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, to discuss a series of possible stadium locations on Tampa's side of the bay. That included Downtown Tampa and West Shore, but not the county fairgrounds, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

But on the mayor's weekly calendar, which typically provides local reporters the topics and locations of the mayor's meetings, the morning rendezvous with the Rays was simply listed as "Ken Hagan," with the location and meeting topic omitted.

And months' worth of public record requests to both Hagan and Buckhorn have come up empty; the public officials attending the meeting claim they don't have a single document, email, or text message pertaining to their behind-closed-door discussions, which could ultimately cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

A new stadium is expected to cost at least $500 million with taxpayers likely called on to fund a significant portion of the construction and infrastructure.

While Pinellas County has robust tourist tax revenues, which could potentially bond upwards of $200 million in stadium construction, Hillsborough County's available tourist tax revenues would likely bond no more than $75 million. Additional revenues, such as a rental car tax, have been discussed but are considered neither particularly lucrative nor politically popular.

"I think all of us ... at least on the public side ... are trying to find a way to (finance a ballpark) without the way that Raymond James was publicly financed," Buckhorn said. "I don't think a referendum would pass, so we will have to look at other things.

"We're going to have to look at bed tax, we're going to have to look at potentially rental car surcharges ... to the extent that we can place the burden on tourists, that would be ideal. But at this point, we don't know. It's going to be expensive, and if you asked me today how we would pay for it, I couldn't tell you."

Buckhorn said the Hillsborough group's next meeting with the Rays will be in October. Hagan didn't return requests for comment Tuesday.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Florida's Next Governor(?) Doesn't Like Stadium Subsidies

The leading candidate to be Florida's next governor, Adam Putnam, doesn't appear to be a fan of state subsidies for the Rays (any other pro franchise), a stark contrast to the current governor, Rick Scott:

This blog has previously explored the state's role in helping to fund pro stadiums, as well as the current lack of interest in the legislature to continue the practice.

The good news for the Rays is that term limits guarantees a new slate of lawmakers is never more than a couple years away.  But with limited money for a stadium in Tampa, any lack of state funding would put the idea of a Hillsborough stadium out of reach.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Where Hillsborough Commission Candidates Stand on a New Rays Stadium

TAMPA, Florida – While select leaders - on both sides of Tampa Bay - debate the future of the Rays, any possible public funding for a new stadium will ultimately require the approval of either the Hillsborough or Pinellas County commissions.

In my latest for 10News WTSP, I asked each candidate running for a commission seat this year about his or her opinions on a new stadium. Below is a summary of their answers. Primary day is August 30 with general elections in November.

2016: Where Pinellas BOCC candidates stand
Where Hillsborough BOCC candidates stand
2014: Where Pinellas BOCC candidates stand
2012: Where Hillsborough BOCC candidates stand
2010: Where Hillsborough BOCC candidates stand

* = incumbent
Write-in candidates were not included.

District 1 (No Primary)
Sandy Murman* (R) – District 1’s sitting commissioner, Murman supports moving the Rays to Hillsborough County, comparing the potential relocation to that of a major corporate headquarters. But she remained reserved about how to pay for a stadium. “Under no circumstances will I support a sales tax increase or use of general revenue to finance a ballpark,” Murman wrote, adding that any subsidy proposal needs to be thoroughly vetted by county staff before commissioners can consider it, and she wishes the current conversations were more transparent. She said she “didn’t have a number in mind” for how much the county could contribute to a stadium, Murman wrote “We need to resolve our transportation funding plan before we begin the Rays conversation.”

Jeff Zampitella (D) – A Downtown Tampa resident, Zampitella says he would like to see the Rays move to the Tampa Park Apartment site, sandwiched between downtown’s Channel District and Ybor City. He says the site has promising transit, parking, and ingress/egress potential. And while he said he opposes general property tax revenues going toward a stadium, Zampitella has a liberal view on using other tax revenues to secure the Rays’ future, including bed taxes, sales taxes, property tax breaks, Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) property tax earmarks, and the local telecommunications tax. He applauded Commissioner Ken Hagan’s leadership on the negotiations so far, but also believes the discussions need to be more transparent for the public’s benefit.

District 3 (no election)
Les Miller (D)
– The sitting commission chair, Miller responded to 10News’ questions with a simple seven-word statement: “I have no comments at this time.” However, he has allowed fellow commissioner Ken Hagan to lead the county’s secret negotiations with the team. And in previously-public comments from January, Miller was quoted as saying, “We want the Rays to stay no doubt...but we have to figure out a way to pay for it and not ask taxpayers to pay for a new stadium."

District 6 (Countywide)
Jim Norman (R) – The former commissioner failed to return numerous emails, but helped craft the Bucs' subsidized stadium deal while county commissioner 20 years ago. However, in 2010, he expressed hesitation when fellow commissioner Ken Hagan tried to pry the Rays from St. Petersburg without first getting permission. And recently, told the Tampa Bay Times "the pot is just not deep enough" to retain three pro franchises, pointing to the Bucs' and Lightning's expiring stadium leases in 2027.

Tim Schock (R) – Since his unsuccessful 2014 commission run, Schock has maintained his call for Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to work together to find the Rays a new home, rather than compete against each other. “Lack of cooperation between Hillsborough County and Pinellas County is leading to competition that is detrimental to both,” Schock wrote. He said he’d likely support bed tax revenues going toward a stadium, but not any other local “unrestricted” funds. Instead, he suggested the state should step up to retain MLB in Tampa Bay, just as it funds spring training stadium projects, and better collaboration between the two counties could advance that goal.

John Dicks (D) – A proponent of a Rays-to-Hillsborough move, the former mayor of Plant City advocates using bed tax and a new stadium Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) to help pay for a facility. CRA districts redirect local property taxes from redeveloped areas back into the same area. However, the revenues can be unpredictable and they ultimately come from county tax coffers. Dicks said state money could also help the county land the Rays, which he believes would drive new tourism revenues. He also emphasized the need for Hillsborough to work with Pinellas on a comprehensive transit & transportation plan, “paramount for our quality of life as well as the success of any professional sports team.”

Pat Kemp (D) – An advocate for regional transit, Kemp said funding a baseball stadium cannot be prioritized ahead of transportation and other issues. “I would likely oppose the use of any general revenues to fund a new stadium,” said Kemp, but she said she could see a possible stadium downtown or near West Shore and that she “might support tax increment revenues generated strictly by stadium development and parking revenues accruing from stadium events.” Kemp added that she was concerned about the lack of transparency in the county’s discussions with the team to-date and “the stadium cannot be the product of a backroom deal.”

Tom Scott (D) – A former county commissioner, Scott says he favors a new stadium somewhere in the “urban core.” But he also says public financing should be limited to just the bed tax, which he says “has the capacity to produce the funding needed for the stadium.” However, most estimates of Hillsborough County’s bed taxes project the revenues to bond no more than $75 million in construction. Scott says “enough energy is being given already for the stadium” and has suggested a long list of other priorities for the county.

Brian Willis (D) – Perhaps the race’s most outspoken candidate on the issue of expanding transit, Willis suggested every Rays stadium conversation needs to revolve around transportation, “If we get the transportation piece right,” Willis said, “well-connected to our regional transportation network and future transit connections...everyone will benefit, including any future stadium location.” He also encouraged Hillsborough and Pinellas County to stop competing against each other for the Rays, and not to get in bidding wars with other U.S. cities either. But Willis said if the team pays for more than half of a new stadium’s cost, he could see Hillsborough contributing bed tax dollars, applying for state money, and also asking the airport authority & state legislature to increase rental car fees to help subsidize the construction cost.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Snug Harbor Rays Site: Baseball by Boat in Tampa Bay?

The front page of the Tampa Bay Times this morning touts a new Pinellas ballpark stadium location, on the Gandy waterfront, just East of Derby Lane.

"Snug Harbor," as described by Mark Puente and Charlie Frago, is 39 acres that the Rays are interested in, with the ingress/egress and potential ferry access the team could need.

And while this site was not on the Pinellas County's recent list of 10 possible sites was recently-added to Pinellas County's list of now-17 possible sites, we're reminded anyone with a pile of dirt still has a chance to land the team....if only they had a way to pay for it.

That said, this blog has written endlessly about why Gandy Blvd. locations in Pinellas Co. are so much more likely than any site in Tampa, as Pinellas County has nearly triple the bed tax revenue available.

And, I'm quite familiar with the Snug Harbor site, literally working across the street from certainly could be a beautiful location, with ample waterfront space for docking boats.

The site is within St. Pete city limits (barely)...but this morning's article suggests St. Pete & Mayor Rick Kriseman don't want to consider the site yet, putting all their eggs in their Downtown basket.
UPDATE: Kriseman spokesperson Ben Kirby wrote this morning, "St. Pete has been very clear our position is NOT Trop site or bust. It's in our city and it's our preferred site. That's all."  He also provided this original information from the city's Baseball Forever plan.

Ironically, Kriseman's predecessor, who lost his job for refusing to let the Rays talk to Tampa without paying for the right....was one of the first politicians to suggest the team could/should consider moving to Gandy Blvd.

A "Trop site or bust" attitude wouldn't be very good PR, but it might kind of make sense for the Rays....

While Snug Harbor has a lot of things to like about a new stadium site, it doesn't offer the one most-important thing the Rays want to make the money on: ancillary development.

With only 39 acres - 5 of which are submerged - the team won't have much opportunity to profit on surrounding real estate deals.  Not to mention the land acquisition price ($30M) and possible flood remediation costs (???) would ultimately come out of their pocket.

These days, stadium deals aren't so much about making money on the butts in the seats; just ask Jeff Vinik; or the Red Sox or the Braves or the Rangers.  Sometimes, there's more money to be made around the stadium than in the stadium, and St. Pete seems ready to hand the Rays a blank check if they help anchor Tropicana site redevelopment.

Of course, if the legislature helps the team cut a deal with Derby Lane to keep paramutuals on-site, Gandy Blvd. looks a lot more appealing again.....

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