Rays stadium site could come down to which county will throw more public money at it

Another possible Tampa Bay Rays stadium site has been added to the long list being explored by Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, which I suppose is news if you’re keeping score at home. This one is in St. Petersburg on the bay near the Gandy Bridge to Tampa, and it’s in a flood zone and would need lots of water and sewer lines run and road improvements, but here, let the Tampa Bay Times explain why they think it’s promising:

At 39 acres, it’s large enough for a stadium and all the extras the Rays envision. It’s owned by a local couple who wants to sell, which could simplify negotiations. The nearby roads are already slated for substantial improvements, easing access to the somewhat isolated property. It’s a natural stop for the proposed Tampa to St. Petersburg ferry, if that initiative ever materializes. It’s also in a county that has already reserved bed tax money for a new ballpark.

Wait, say that last part again? Pinellas County has set aside hotel tax money for a new Rays stadium? When did that happen? (Scrolls through list of Rays posts, Googles.) Okay, there’s this from one year ago:

Pinellas County commissioners agreed Tuesday to add a sixth cent to the so-called tourist bed tax but now have to decide what to do with the money.

The increased tax on nightly hotel stays takes effect Jan. 1 and will add about $7 million a year to the county’s tourist tax collections. In addition, another $7 million will be available after the bonds used to build Tropicana Field are paid off in September.

That’s not exactly “reserved,” especially since there are other projects that would like to use the same tax money, but it is “available,” I suppose. The Times appears to be moving the goalposts a little, though, to where the $14 million is considered set aside for the Rays. That would be enough to pay off maybe $200 million or so in construction costs, which while it would still leave a long way to go towards full funding, would be an awfully nice start for Rays owner Stuart Sternberg — and a rather large chunk of change for Pinellas residents to dedicate to a private baseball stadium, especially when the team is almost certainly going to stay in the metro area regardless.

Either way, it seems like Sternberg is playing this exactly right in terms of maximizing his leverage: By considering every site under the sun, he can get Tampa, St. Pete, and the two counties bidding against each other, and right now Pinellas’ advantage is that it has more available hotel tax money to burn than Hillsborough. Whether you consider getting a stadium on your side of the bay by throwing more public money at it “winning” is another story entirely.

4 comments on “Rays stadium site could come down to which county will throw more public money at it

  1. One can only laugh upon reflection that this whole saga began because Tropicana Field is too far away from the population and that the “future” of the Rays could only be in downtown Tampa.

    So naturally the solution could be to move the ballpark a whole 9 miles closer, onto a “somewhat isolated” parcel in a wetland…which someday might be served by a ferry. How this could be presented as a credible option by the same people who insisted St. Pete’s is a terrible location boggles the mind.

    If you wouldn’t drive to St. Pete’s before, you probably won’t like this option either–given that now you have to drive through South Tampa to get there.

  2. All the sites listed have significant issues and while the one listed above has the Rays’ attention, it also has significant knocks against it – cost of land, cost to flood-proof not to mention the hefty insurance costs on the stadium due to it being in a flood zone.

    And then (as reported by the Tampa Bay Times):

    “It’s far from main north-south arteries such as I-275 and U.S. 19, and isn’t very close to a business center flush with working professionals looking to buy baseball tickets.

    Kennedy worries about the cost of running necessary infrastructure such as water, sewer and electricity sufficient for a stadium to Snug Harbor. He also said that two-lane San Martin Boulevard NE near the site is already getting busier with drivers using the road as a back door to Gandy. A new stadium would only magnify the problem, he said.”

  3. I also thought the part promoting this site because of its accessibility by water (yeah you can boat to it!) was one of the better fallacies of boosterism ever (my favorite though was my alma mater trying to sell the building of a new arena on campus with the promise of “large academic events”).

    Reading the article I was curious about the article that they posted on Saturday on the 17 sites in consideration in Pinellas county. Most of these have major problems from the start (traffic, not near interstate). It is kind of sadly humorous that the best option seems to be exactly where the stadium is.

  4. And here’s another example how utterly ridiculous all these sites are:

    “I said all along all I just wanted to have our city in the conversation when it comes to a new stadium location,” Mayor Bevis told Oldsmar Connect shortly after the list was revealed.

    “Obviously this doesn’t mean we are going to get the team, but it means the people who are making the important decisions on this issue think we have a viable location for a stadium here in Oldsmar.”

    Oldsmar is NEVER going to be a serious location. Nothing viable about the site, and no one really think its viable, yet, this and other sites keep making a “short list”? The real short list of viable locations will have a grand total of one site… and it’s not even going to be in Florida!