While Ken Hagan talks about committee to meet with team, Rays still silent about Bill Foster’s reversal

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The following is cross-posted from Noah Pransky’s Shadow of the Stadium blog.

So lots of news today about Ken Hagan’s proposed Hillsborough County stadium search committee….including from Mayor Bill Foster on sports radio today:

Mayor Foster on @1040theteam: Premature for Ken Hagan or @BobBuckhornto assemble a committee…#StPete still in negotiations w/#Rays.
— Shadow of Stadium (@StadiumShadow) August 7, 2013

But a couple quick thoughts on what I’m reading:

  1. Hagan took my advice and said current Downtown Tampa land owners, like Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, shouldn’t be on the committee for possible conflict-of-interest reasons.
  2. This will be at least the third public group to look at possible financing for a new stadium.  The first two – the ABC Coalition and the local chambers’ stadium caucus – both indicated it would be near-impossible to get a stadium done in Tampa without significant new taxes.

Also interesting were comments from St. Petersburg council chair Karl Nurse, who reminded everyone in Tampa that on top of a $600 million price tag for a new stadium, they’d better budget a buyout of St. Pete’s current contract if the Rays are going to move before 2027.

“I’m not convinced that moving 20 miles in any direction will have a huge impact on their attendance,” Nurse told the Trib. “Is it worth $500 or $600 million collectively? I don’t know the answer to that.”

My WTSP-TV colleague Dave Wirth agrees:

Sure, blame all the usual suspects: bad location, bad stadium, bad economy, not enough corporate support. But the ugly truth could be we just don’t have enough real baseball fans in the Tampa Bay area. Real fans who will pay to see the Rays play, no matter where they’re playing.

And even with a new stadium in Tampa, there’s no guarantee the team will draw there.

We may have to face facts.

A good friend of my station, Tampa land attorney Ron Weaver, speculated in the pages of the Times that there are lots of creative ways to fund a stadium that are worth exploring: rental car taxes, hotel taxes, ticket surcharges, premium concerts and conventions, etc.  Weaver knows a heck of a lot more about this stuff than I do, but I don’t think the ideas are ways to close that $300-$400 million gap in stadium financing:

  1. Rental car tax increases require approval from the legislature and the chamber caucus already identified rental car and hotel tax increases as the major revenue streams for Tampa.  They’re not enough to close the gap.
  2. Ticket surcharges ultimately mean the team is collecting less per ticket, so it’s the last thing the Rays want.  If they wanted to pay for a stadium themselves, they’d take a loan from MLB.
  3. Concerts and conventions are nice, but you aren’t going to convince new artists to go on tour.  So more likely, you’d just be prying events away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the Whatever-Its-Called-Now Amphetheater, and the Tampa Convention Center.  Basically, Tampa would be spending money to move big events from one venue to another one across town.

But the best brainstorming I read today came on Field of Schemes, where Neil deMause writes:

If there’s a lesson from the history of past stadium campaigns, it’s not to get locked in to dollar figures too early, or else the debate shifts from “Should we build this?” to “How can we fill this $__ million funding gap?”

One reaction you won’t read is that of the Tampa Bay Rays.  They’ve declined comments all week.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.