Author of study showing spring training is huge boon to Florida says spring training not actually huge boon to Florida

So Charlotte County, Florida released one of those studies a couple of weeks ago that claimed to show that Tampa Bay Rays spring training games “generated an estimated economic impact of $20,978,500″ in spending by out-of-towners, which I ignored because if I wrote about every one of these things, I’d never get anything else done. But now Noah Pransky of Shadow of the Stadium has called up the author of the study and not only confirmed that the study didn’t try to account for visitors who would have been in the county anyway (since some people have been known to vacation in Florida in March), but got the study author to acknowledge that he doesn’t think spring training is that much of an economic boon at all:

[Walter] Klages’ response: His study sure didn’t take those things into account; it was never designed to do that.

He added that the majority of overnight visitors who went to Rays games while in Charlotte County likely came to the area for the beaches and weather.  And while he suspected baseball was a factor, he saw it “more like dessert on the platter, rather than the (main course).”

University of South Florida economist Philip Porter, meanwhile, told Pransky that since the county’s economy has grown at the exact same rate as the state’s, he suspects that having Rays spring training in Port Charlotte has had zero economic impact — or even a negative one, since it’s gotten Charlotte County visitors to spend more of their money on a business that takes its revenues and ships them out of the county (known in economics as “leakage”). It all sounded so much better in the press release, but then, that’s the point of press releases.

generated an estimated economic impact of $20,978,500 for Charlotte County – See more at: http://www.charlotteharbortravel.com/press/Charlotte_Harbor_Visitor_&_Convention_Bureau_Releases_Research_Findings#sthash.mBLZooiQ.dpuf
generated an estimated economic impact of $20,978,500 for Charlotte County – See more at: http://www.charlotteharbortravel.com/press/Charlotte_Harbor_Visitor_&_Convention_Bureau_Releases_Research_Findings#sthash.mBLZooiQ.dpuf
generated an estimated economic impact of $20,978,500 for Charlotte County – See more at: http://www.charlotteharbortravel.com/press/Charlotte_Harbor_Visitor_&_Convention_Bureau_Releases_Research_Findings#sthash.mBLZooiQ.dpuf

Rays unveil city-funded stadium tweaks at home opener

Yesterday’s baseball opening day also featured the debut of the new improvements to the Tampa Bay Rays‘ Tropicana Field, which include a new concourse ringing the stadium and a new wooden “porch” in the batter’s eye in center field. The Tampa Bay Times headlined that these changes were drawing “raves” from fans, though the tone of the actual comments was more along the lines of this one: “You can see all the people. It makes it seem more like ballparks in other cities.”

The Times also reported that “the Rays spent about $750,000 on the renovations,” which is only true in the sense they spent somebody else’s money on it: The renovation cash came from a city-funded capital project fund that Rays owner Stuart Sternberg can dip into with city permission. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — this was a capital project, and it’s a capital projects fund — but it might be worth reporting that accurately in the paper, even in a story in the “human interest” section.

Meanwhile, Sternberg says he still plans to do unspecified things to push for a new stadium in the nearish future:

The team’s principal owner, Stuart Sternberg, told reporters before the game that he has not met since February with newly elected St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, but expected they would continue talking and “things will happen” this year — though he didn’t know what.

And the Rays won! And sold out, albeit at a newly reduced capacity of 31,042. Only 80 more home games to go!

It’s Opening Day, when everyone’s stadium dreams start with a 0-0 record

It’s Opening Day for baseball! I’m headed out to see the New York Mets open their season in a couple of hours (the one chance each year for a Mets fan to see their team without a losing record), but what else is going on around the baseball nation?

Florida house speaker: No new sales tax “checks” for stadiums this year

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, who said earlier this week that he’d be introducing a bill to require sports teams to show they actually have a reason to ask for sales-tax kickbacks, upped the ante slightly yesterday by declaring that he doesn’t intend on approving any sports subsidies this year at all:

“Our focus right now is on a process that treats everyone equitably and not writing any checks,” Weatherford said during an interview with The News Service of Florida in his Capitol office.

Currently, the state of Florida pays $2 million a year to the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Heat, and Orlando Magic in exchange for the teams doing the state the favor of existing. (The Miami Marlins got left off this list after getting the $2 million a year break for their previous stadium, but did get everything else they wanted, so no complaining.) Right now the Orlando City Soccer Club, David Beckham’s as-yet-unnamed Miami MLS expansion team, and the Daytona International Speedway are all lining up to ask for sales-tax rebates as well, but it sounds like they’re going to have to wait — until next year, anyway, when Weatherford will, at the ripe old age of 35, be term-limited out of office. If Weatherford has his way, by then there will be new laws requiring team owners to “go through the process with the Department of Economic Opportunity just like everybody else does that wants to create jobs in Florida” to prove that their projects will provide a return on the state’s investment, though it remains to be seen whether he has a chance in hell of getting it through the state senate, which has historically been much more lenient about this kind of thing.

Tampa Bay media report on Tampa Bay media’s reporting of Rays-to-Montréal rumors

What do you get when you combine a slow news day, a semi-famous guy in one city looking to promote his campaign to own an MLB team, and a sportswriter in another city looking for something to write about his city’s team’s stadium campaign in which nothing much is happening? That would be this:

Former Montreal Expos icon Warren Cromartie — so popular in Montreal he once had his own candy bar, the CroBar — is mounting a campaign to lure a team back to the francophone city on the St. Lawrence River. Cromartie told The Tampa Tribune on  Tuesday that he isn’t targeting any team specifically, including the Rays.

However, he acknowledges certain teams are struggling with attendance or their finances and he’s more than willing to let baseball writers and sports agents make the Rays-to-Montreal suggestion.

“You know, baseball writers. Those guys. Not like me, Tampa Tribune baseball writer Michael Sasso, who just wrote an article headlined, ‘Could Montreal make a play for Rays?’”

Look, I’ve long said that Montréal is almost certainly the best baseball market in North America without an MLB team, but that doesn’t make Cromartie’s campaign news just yet — as the Tampa Tribune’s Joe Henderson points out, what the Rays are unhappy about in Tampa Bay is that they don’t have anyone offering to build them a new stadium, and all Montréal has is “a sketchy, unfunded plan to build a ballpark.” Still, Henderson did end up writing a whole article about the Rays moving to Montréal, or at least about them threatening to move to Montréal in order to extort a new stadium in Tampa Bay. Stuart Sternberg has got to be really happy for slow news days.

Rays stadium upgrades not really all that after all

We now know how much Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is spending on renovations to Tropicana Field: just $1.3 milion, and it’s not exactly coming out of Sternberg’s pocket:

The bulk of the money for the overhaul is coming from a special stadium capital projects escrow account the city controls.

The account, which currently has a balance of $2.1 million, is funded with naming rights revenues and ticket fees as part of the city’s contract with the Rays. The team can’t spend money from the account without city approval.

The City Council will be asked to approve the $1.3 million project at its Nov. 25 meeting.

Naming rights revenues and ticket fees aren’t actually a bad way to pay for a stadium maintenance fund — it’s certainly better than having to raid the city’s general fund. But this is less Sternberg deciding to pony up to upgrade his current home while still angling to get out of it than Sternberg looking at a pot of money and figuring, hey, sure, 360-degree concourses, it’s either that or put it on a gift certificate. And hopefully this doesn’t mean there won’t be enough money left in the maintenance fund to do actual maintenance, a problem that Florida cities should be familiar with by now.

Rays plan upgrades to Tropicana Field; sun still tentatively set to rise in east

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg made a stadium announcement this week, and it was … that he’s making renovations to Tropicana Field:

The Rays are making a major renovation to Tropicana Field, creating 360-degree circulation by adding walkways behind the outfield seating areas and opening up what was the dark-walled Batters Eye restaurant into an open-air meeting spot for fans.

No word how much Sternberg is spending on spiffing up the building that he said in 2007 had a “shelf life of five years.” But it’s certainly an acknowledgment that he knows the team isn’t going anywhere else in the next few years. Not that that should really be a big secret.

New St. Pete mayor says a lot of stuff about Rays, none of it very specific

Newly anointed St. Petersburg Mayor-Elect Rick Kriseman has spoken out about the Tampa Bay Rays situation, and the highlights, via Noah Pransky’s Shadow of the Stadium, are:

  • He plans to “get familiar” with the Rays execs in the two months before he takes office.
  • “My no. 1 goal is protecting our taxpayers….(the) second thing is, let’s see what’s happened thus far to get us to where we’re at, and what can we do – if anything – to try and make this team successful here?”
  • If the team is adamant about leaving St. Pete, he’s open to letting them look for a stadium site in Tampa.
  • He hopes to have a resolution to the Rays stadium situation within the next four years.

Add it all up, and you still don’t have an awful lot: Kriseman is willing to talk about letting the Rays out of their lease, but not for free, and he hopes to resolve things during this mayoral term. That’s pretty much what his predecessor Bill Foster said this summer, so the real question remains how much Kriseman will demand in exchange for letting the Rays out of their lease early, and whether Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is willing to pay the tab. Plus, of course, that little matter of how to pay for a brand-new stadium in Tampa. But it’s nice to see that Kriseman at least understands that making the Rays Tampa’s problem could be a not at all bad thing for his city — especially if he can get Sternberg to pay him for doing so.

 

St. Pete mayor ousted, Astrodome rehab defeated, and other stadium-related election returns

Travis Waldron of ThinkProgress thoughtfully ran down five elections yesterday with stadium implications, from a vote on rehabbing the Astrodome to decisions on new mayors for cities facing sports venue battles. And the results are:

The big one to watch immediately is clearly the St. Pete mayoral situation, given that Sternberg is undoubtedly going to be one of the first to call on Kriseman wishing to start those promised “conversations.” There are still a heck of a lot of obstacles to the Rays getting a new building — how on earth to pay for it, mostly — but Foster, at least, is no longer one of them.

County looks to take back TIF money that Tampa earmarked for Rays stadium

If you’re the sort of person who obsessively follows the details of the funding plan for the Rays stadium in Tampa that isn’t anywhere near getting built — and jeez, who wouldn’t? — you may recall that the biggest piece is the $100 million in tax-increment financing (essentially kicked-back property taxes) that is supposed to be available for the project.

Slight problem with that, it turns out: As the Tampa Tribune reports this morning (and Noah Pransky’s Shadow of the Stadium re-reports, because the Trib story apparently isn’t online), Hillsborough County is looking to reclaim some of that property tax money rather than letting the city of Tampa hand it over to developers:

“Ideally, it’s not going to be a case going forward where we continue to put 100 percent into the tax increment area,” county manager Mike Merrill said to the Trib

And while the county may ultimately think a baseball stadium is a good use of those dollars too, it stresses a point made on this blog a few months back: potential stadium dollars could be better-used elsewhere.  The Sheriff’s office, school district, county transportation department, and parks & rec department are just a few of the hungry hands hoping for a few more dollars.

If the county succeeds in recouping part of the TIF fund, that would obviously be a blow to Tampa’s hopes of building a new stadium with tax money if the Rays can ever extricate themselves from their St. Petersburg lease. Though probably not as big a blow as the other maybe $300 million that nobody has much idea how to pay for.