Rays owner proposes new $892m domed stadium, says he “hasn’t looked at” who’d pay for it

After what seems like a lifetime of false starts and saber-rattling and playing footsie with every locality in the Tampa Bay region, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg finally unveiled actual plans for a new stadium in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa yesterday, complete with renderings. And oh, what renderingsYep, Sternberg is proposing to build a giant glass trilobite, with the best seats right behind the plate removed to make way for some kind of triumphal entryway, and Tropicana Field’s much-hated fixed roof replaced by a different fixed roof, only this time translucent, because we know how well that worked at the Astrodome. (For those who don’t want to click through: Outfielders couldn’t see flyballs, the dome’s skylights were all painted over, the grass all died, and Monsanto had to invent Astroturf.) Also some gratuitous lens flare even though the shadows indicate the sun should be way off to the left, because nothing says “ooh, shiny” like lens flare. It may not be a Brancusi sculpture, but it’s certainly something.

And from there, the stadium details just get more … audacious? unexpected? wackadoodle? … let’s go with one of those:

  • The stadium would be by far the smallest in MLB, holding only 28,216 seats, while another 2,600 people could stand or sit in folding chairs or something. That sort of makes sense when you consider Rays attendance, which hasn’t topped 23,148 per game since their inaugural season, though less so when you consider that the whole point of this new-stadium exercise is to attract more fans in a better location.
  • In place of a retractable roof — or no roof at all — the stadium would expose fans to the elements with a retractable wall, which I guess would remind them that the outside world still exists by letting the occasional breeze in, without actually making them vulnerable to rain or sun or the sky or any nuisances like that. It’s still likely to sound like you’re inside an airport hangar, which in my experience is the worst part of domes, but maybe that next-generation translucent roof material will be permeable to sound, too, who knows?
  • A smaller capacity and a non-retracting roof could both be ways to keep costs down, but if so, they weren’t kept down very far: The price tag on this arthropod of dreams is an estimated $892 million.

And, all renderings that will invariably change later aside, here’s the part we’ve really all been waiting for: How does Sternberg expect to pay for this thing? Let’s listen in:

I mean … I mean … I mean … seriously? Rays execs had, depending on how you count, somewhere between five months and ten years to come up with some ideas, any ideas at all for how to pay for a stadium, Sternberg and friends came up with, well, this:

Reactions from the rest of the world were similarly nonplussed, as a trip down Noah Pransky’s Twitter feed shows:

https://twitter.com/noahpransky/status/1017015178079166466

Okay, so the Tampa Bay Times was enthralled, at least.

If you want tough questions from the Tampa press corps, here’s Pransky himself asking Sternberg himself about how on earth he actually plans to build this thing that he’s been dreaming and talking about for years upon years:

Pransky: 892 million. Can you afford it?

Sternberg: Well, potentially.

Pransky: What do you need from the public sector?

Sternberg: I haven’t even looked at it at this point really.

Pransky: You guys haven’t looked at it all?!?

Sternberg: Not to the point that’s necessary. We’ve been focused on what you saw today, which is in itself a huge, huge undertaking.

So we are supposed to believe that the owner of a pro sports team, who for years has been demanding a new stadium as a way of improving his bottom line, went into designing and pricing out a new stadium with no thoughts at all of how it would be paid for or whether it would make money. Or the other possibility is that he thought, Hey, asking for hundreds of millions of dollars is a bad look — let’s just give the public lots of pretty pictures and hope they’ll be distracted enough not to worry about where the money will come from. I bet it’ll work on those stenographers at the Tampa Bay Times, anyway!

This, needless to say, is only the beginning of what is sure to be a long, painful battle. I’ll be on The Beat of Sports with Marc Daniels at 10 am ET today to talk about the Rays’ announcement, and more if we have time — tune in here. I’ll try to have more to say than just leaving my jaw hanging open in flabbergastment for the entire segment.


35 comments on “Rays owner proposes new $892m domed stadium, says he “hasn’t looked at” who’d pay for it

    • You think it’s possibly a Tampa Bay Times headline writer trying to throw some oblique shade? That’s probably too much to hope for.

      • I know a few writers there, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. They’re pretty sharp (well, usually).

  1. “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish all who see it begin to mock him, saying ‘This man began to build anf was not able to finish.\'”

    -Luke 14:28-30, ESV

  2. The stadium was modeled after the old man’s eye in the short story: The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe. Seriously though, I tuned into the local sports station yesterday (620 WDAE) and it was hilarious to hear those bozos (In particular JP Peterson) twist themselves into pretzels trying to justify taxpayers paying for this boondoggle. One of my favorite’s was “I don’t care when economists say that stadiums don’t generate revenue, they are wrong. This stadium will generate revenue and i”ll be able to bring my kids to games.”

  3. Marlins stadium, which has a retractable roof, cost $676 million in current dollars, seats 37,000 and is in a higher cost of living area than Tampa. Why would this stadium, without a retractable roof and seating just 28,200, cost $892 million? Looks like there are lots of opportunities for graft, corruption, and obese margins for those that would build it.

    • $892 million is just the ballpark figure (heh). The cost would invariably be higher if they actually get around to building that thing.

      I’m just amazed that they had something like a decade to figure out how this whole project might be financed, and the best they could come up with when pressed on the subject was “creative funding.” Not even a pie chart. It’s too funny to even read into a cynical way.

      • Marc Daniels just asked me if this was a roundabout ploy by Sternberg to say, “Well, I tried,” and then move the team elsewhere. I told him that would make more sense if there was a reasonable elsewhere to move to.

        I think sometimes a dumb rich guy is just a dumb rich guy.

        • He’d still have to wait another decade, if they were to move further than Tampa. The agreement between St. Pete and the Rays only allows them to look for land and build in the Tampa Bay area.

    • Scott: I think the answer to that is “because someone else is paying”.

      Given that he plans to pay for as little of the new stadium (if built) as possible, there is no compelling reason for Sternberg not to demand a $2bn stadium with solid gold seat frames for the club seat section, holographic displays and genetically engineered pink grass.

      Seriously, when you aren’t paying for any of it yourself, why not?

      • I guess. But Sternberg could avoid a lot of aggravation and unwanted trips to Florida if he just sold the team at a huge profit.

        • Sure, or moved them to another location…. if there was another location available with a comparable or better market and a comparable or better stadium deal up for discussion.

          Not sure he has either of those available, frankly. The speculation has always been that he wants to move them somewhere in the New York area (one of the very few districts that could support an additional team). Trouble is, he isn’t going to get there without paying the Yankees and Mets…

          Perhaps his plan is to extort a new stadium, THEN sell (for an even more staggering profit). I mean, why wait 15 years to farm the subsidy when you can recoup it’s full value (and maybe more) by selling up front.

          It worked for Loria & Stepson, after all.

          • If he wanted to move it out of Tampa Bay, he’d have to wait until after 2027. The current agreement between the city of St. Pete and the team stipulates they can only consider building in the area. Unless the team and city went back to the drawing board and formed a new agreement, which would be much more costly to the Rays.

          • Yes, it’s well known that the lease binds them to Tampa until 2027. In addition, the latest revisions (as I recall) only allow the team to ‘explore’ other options in the Tampa area.

            That doesn’t make it unreasonable to start shaking the tree in earnest now, given that it will take at least a couple (and maybe more like 4 or 5) years to find a willing partner community, then another 3 seasons to build the new facility. While such negotiations could not be conducted by the “Rays” or Sternberg, they could certainly be carried out by a third party interested in acquiring the Rays (or part of them) in future… any party not currently in the ownership group or not otherwise named on the lease is not covered by the negotiating prohibition, obviously.

            That makes “now” more or less the perfect time to drop a “give me a new stadium now or I’ll start thinking about moving elsewhere” threat.

            Which he hasn’t done… in fact he’s been “Not” doing just that for several years now.

            While there may be no “good” locations to move to, there are a couple of potential ones that – with the right stadium extortion gambit – could be as good as Tampa has been financially.

            I don’t see a better market available. A third NY team is the only one that might be a significant money spinner, and that will take a serious hit once indemnity to the Yankees and Mets is factored in.

  4. A $900 million figure for a ballpark that looks like a somewhat more modern version of the Trop is funny enough, but the fact that they seemed to have no idea how its construction would be financed after this many years is sheer comedy.

    Not my idea (stole it off of Twitter), but maybe they could start a Gofundme account if they’re serious about the whole “creative funding” bit…

    But really, I think the Rays will be in for a rude awakening when the local powerbrokers wake up from the post-rendering stupor and have their “Now what?” moments about this project. Forget about the attendance issues at the Trop for a second here. This could be the moment the Rays find out just how little f— the region has to give for them.

    • That was my first impression too, Kei. “Oh, he’s building the trop, except with fewer seats and a glass roof”. I guess that makes having the blimp (ok, drone cam) fly over less ridiculous at the new venue…

  5. If you cannot get your new arena, then just change your goals and that new arena will magically fall into your lap.

    Q: You’ve mentioned stepping into some challenging situations and that the arena saga has been part of that. What can you say about the work (Steve) Patterson was doing and how the search for a new arena will change with you taking over this position?

    A: The arena has always been a collaborative effort and one that I’ve [New President and CEO Ahron Cohen] been centrally involved in since I started with the Coyotes. That’s going to continue with myself as well as our advisers, Mitchell Zeits being one of them, and (owner) Andy Barroway is involved and (general manager) John Chayka is involved. Really, the most important thing for us right now and what we’re focusing on is achieving our core goals. Those are building hockey fandom in Arizona, building a competitive team on the ice, and positively impacting our community. Ultimately, we have to figure out our long-term arena solution. But that problem is solved by achieving those three goals I laid out. Everything else will fall in place if we’re fulfilling those three goals.

    https://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/nhl/coyotes/2018/07/10/arizona-coyotes-ceo-ahron-cohen-arena-search/773674002/

    • Isn’t it supposed to work the other way around? “We need a new arena to help us field a competitive team and attract fans.” I guess it works whichever way you need it to.

      • Pretty much.

        It doesn’t matter whether your attendance is up, down or has stayed the same for 40 years… you need a new facility. If you build too many seats or suites, you can always demand public money to fix this error by turning the seats into suites, the suites into seats, or the whole thing into a freaky statue of a fish.

        And as O’Malley proved with the Dodgers, even when a city condemns and/or eminent domains a bunch of people’s homes and small farms and promises them first dibs on the replacement apartments and townhouses… …. you can still build a 56,000 seat ballpark there instead.

        A few of the people who used to subsistence farm on the land before might even get low paying jobs as hot dog vendors or toilet cleaners.

        There’s a really offensive economic trickle down joke in there somewhere….

  6. Interesting how a baseball team’s “needs” change.

    The Rays began play in the then 45,000 seat Trop (oops, Florida Sun Coast Dome) in 1998.

    Over the years they have steadily reduced capacity (the Wolff method was employed), reaching a low of just over 31,000 in 2014.

    Now they propose building a 28,000 seat new facility (I guess they don’t plan on making the playoffs ever again… probably wise forecasting).

    Will the next stadium upgrade (sometime around 2040) involve a move to the former Legends Field (cap 11,000)?

  7. I like the Rays. I really do. And I am glad they are here in Saint Petersburg.

    I went through the Gateway Project when I was In my hometown of Cleveland. The pitch at the time was something like $250 millionkeeps the Indians and brings the Cavs downtown. And best of all, smokers and drinkers would pay for it. Since i like baseball and Basketball, and never smoke and drink, that was a good deal.

    Now Stu says he needs $900 million to put the Rays in Tampa. I like the Trop. It is air conditioned, the food is good, and sometimes the Rays win. I also like the fact that the Stadium in just down 16th street from me.

    However, the Central area of St. Pete is red hot now. And we could easily get $2-300+ million for a redevelopment project of the Trop acreage if the Trop wasn’t there for baseball.

    To do this, Stu says he needs $900 Million. Since I don’t live in Tampa, I am all for it since I won’t pay for it. What I am not sure of is why, if Tampa is stupid enough to go for it, they can’t get the Miami Marlins deal. Instead this is no lube, and no flowers or cards either.

  8. I’d don’t understand why these teams needs stadiums with roofs? Does it rain every day in Florida during baseball season? I thought Florida was the “Sunshine State”. 99.99 % of organized baseball (and football) games are played and watched outdoors with very little complaining. Heck, the NHL stages outdoor games in the middle of winter and draws tens of thousands. Please, no more domed stadiums.

    • “Does it rain every day in Florida during baseball season?”

      Not that I’m in any way trying to justify building a domed stadium, but the answer to your question is “yes, pretty much, at least for a few minutes in late afternoon”.

    • “Does it rain every day in Florida during baseball season?”

      Between mid-May and at least late August, yeah, pretty much. Plus the sun is brutal for day games (just try going to a 1pm early-season Bucs home game, or better yet just take my word for it), and summer humidity is oppressive AF, even at night.

  9. Still prefer the “sail stadium” concept from a decade ago. Half the cost, an actual retractable roof, and a little more daring than this dome that looks like the atrium at the Gaylord Palms.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rays_Ballpark

    • More renderings of the “sail stadium”

      https://archinect.com/news/article/72502/more-details-on-the-tampa-bay-rays-new-stadium-plans

    • I lived in that part of St Pete when that was proposed; in fact, I was on the board for my neighborhood association, and for that reason I got to sit in on a presentation and Q&A session from the team as they tried to get our buy-in. For one thing, the land that holds Al Lang Field is just not big enough for a stadium that meets MLB standards. For another, they were basically handwaving away any parking problems (parking was not included as part of the plan my group saw) – their response was that people could use any of the garages then in existence (hint: fewer than there are now), and that street parking could sop up the overflow. Needless to say, street parking in downtown and the two adjacent residential neighborhoods (Historic Old Northeast and Historic Uptown) was nowhere near sufficient for that. Those neighborhoods have very narrow streets, and traffic would have been brutal for residents on game days. But the team’s response was basically a big shrug and a “yeah, but you don’t want the team to leave, do you? And this is a cool stadium, so you should be grateful.”

      But yes, the design was an interesting one. No argument there. Still glad it never got built.

  10. I think the $900 MM is a bargain for this proposal – because its actually two stadiums. Sternberg will learn from sports owners in Miami – Beckham and Jeter. From Beckham – how to fit large projects in small spaces and will one up Jeter – instead of having cheap players, have no players at all.

  11. The baseball colored roof would be fun, high comedy with every pop fly. Once again there are like 10 cars in the drawings, they never show parking lots and cars in these things. And the expense is a joke. Why not stay in the Trop and make the best of it?

    I think the best idea is the comment to move them as a 3rd team to New York. If capitalism had anything to do with, that would probably make the most sense.

    • If throwing your weight around to gain monopoly power over a market isn’t capitalism, then pretty much all of corporate America is doing it wrong.

      (I’m not saying they’re not.)

    • “If capitalism had anything to do with, that would probably make the most sense.”

      The idea that capitalism has anything to do with actively seeking out competition is ahistoric, to say the least.

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