On the fifth anniversary of the launch of his blog, Shadow of the Stadium, Noah Pransky dissects the Tampa Bay Times’ annual opening day frustratitorial. It’s actually Pransky’s last question that is the most interesting to me and that is:
(H)ow long will it take for the Times to turn on Kriseman if he digs his heels in for St. Pete and there is no considerable progress in stadium talks.
We may know more later this week; Kriseman and Rays owner Stu Sternberg are expected to meet again at an undisclosed time & location.
The worldviews of Kriseman and the Times overlap too much for the newspaper to turn on Kriseman the way it did Foster, but it could employ a strategy where it attempts to marginalize him vis-a-vis Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn or the Pinellas County Commission.
Pransky notes that today’s editorial once again urges the Mayor of St. Petersburg to cut a deal with the Rays to let the team explore stadium sites “in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.” The fear is that public and private projects will move ahead without a stadium; a different fear than the paper’s board has tapped in previous years:
I agree with Pransky that the Times makes a great point in its 2014 editorial – many tax dollars that could go toward a stadium are now (or soon) going to other projects:
This window of opportunity will not be open much longer. In 2015, the Tropicana Field bonds paid by a portion of the Pinellas resort tax will be paid off. Other projects already are making pitches for a share of that resort tax money. In Hillsborough County, the Tampa Convention Center bonds will be paid off next year and the redevelopment districts that generated the revenue for them will expire if they are not reapproved. Higher car rental fees already are allocated toward paying off bonds for an expansion at Tampa International Airport. Those sorts of revenue streams would be needed to build a new baseball stadium, but the money will be allocated to other projects if the stadium discussion does not move in a clear direction soon.
In January, I wrote that, now, more than ever, it’s time to let the Rays go.
Pransky also wonders if funding other projects is necessarily a bad thing?
Would Tampa Bay be better off with a stadium instead of all the things possible stadium money could go to: airport improvements, transit improvements, beach renourishment, infrastructure, etc? I don’t know, but that seems to be a more important discussion the Times should be calling for.
As for the rest of Pransky’s thoughts…
Watchdogs should also ask if there is a real need for a replacement stadium right now, 14 years before the contract expires. Yes, we know the Rays draw the smallest crowds in the league despite great success…but they’re still raking the profits in.
Baseball is still an $8 billion business that is on the verge of $9 billion this year. And let’s not forget the Rays are only a few years away from reaping a giant television windfall too.
Property in and around potential stadium sites also could be gobbled up for other uses. Fortune 500 company Jabil Circuit is still considering whether to build a corporate headquarters near Tropicana Field that could transform downtown and make the Trop site even more attractive for other uses besides a baseball stadium. In Tampa’s downtown, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik controls more than 20 acres around the Tampa Bay Times Forum and is believed to have other ideas for that property. A nearby flour mill site has potential as a stadium site, but the mill would have to be moved and some of Vinik’s property still would be needed.
Conversely, if property in St. Pete could be used for better things than a stadium, couldn’t the same be said about Tampa? We know a stadium can bring great pride & vibe to a downtown, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the highest-and-best use of Downtown Tampa land.
That said, there is simply no shortage of land in Tampa Bay. Yes, the ConAgra flour mill plant is likely Tampa’s best possible stadium site, but there are no imminent plans (or methods) to replace it right now. So what’s the urgent rush?
The bottom line, though, remains the same. The Rays will not be playing in the Trop when its lease expires in 2027. The franchise needs a modern stadium, and it needs to be able to look in both Pinellas and Hillsborough for the best location. The city and the team need to reach an agreement that would let the Rays look in those two counties for a reasonable amount of time in return for some financial benefit to St. Petersburg. It’s up to Kriseman and (Rays owner Stu) Sternberg to make that happen, and there is no more time to waste.
By pointing out there are 14 years left on its contract (not a lease), the Times contradicts its own urgency claim. Nevertheless, the feeling is shared by many Rays fans who have bought the hype.