Rays still have no idea where they want to build stadium, how to pay for it

Tampa Bay Rays execs met with Hillsborough County and city of Tampa officials yesterday to discuss possible stadium sites, and boy, did they discuss a lot of them:

They spent nearly two hours going over nine sites both inside and outside the Tampa city limits — seven presented by the Hillsborough group, two more by the Rays…

Afterward, the Rays would not discuss any of the sites. Elected officials confirmed only a partial list: the Tampa Park Apartments site near downtown, the Jefferson High School site in West Shore, docks near Ybor City now used by International Ship Repair, the Florida State Fairgrounds east of the city and the Heights property just north of Interstate 275.

Not all these sites are necessarily available — the developer of the Heights site, for example, told the Tampa Bay Times, “we’re excited about [our] project; it doesn’t include a baseball stadium” — but they’re throwing them all into the hopper regardless. Rays president Brian Auld said the team will sit down with Pinellas County officials at a later date to identify possible sites on the other side of the bay.

All this is fine enough due diligence, and a necessary first step if the Rays want to determine where a stadium could go, and more important, how much it might cost. Buried way, way down at the bottom of the TB Times piece is this snippet on funding of any new stadium, wherever it might end up:

Based on where a stadium was built, officials have said there could be up to 10 different sources of funding. Along with money from the team, those could include property taxes earmarked for community redevelopment in areas like downtown Tampa, rental car surcharges, some hotel bed taxes, money authorized by the Legislature, ticket user fees and foreign investment available through the federal government’s EB-5 visa program.

In other words, “We don’t know yet where a stadium might go, or how to pay for it.” For all the kerfuffle over St. Petersburg not letting the Rays out of their lease until recently, these are still the main issues keeping the team from building a new stadium, and they’re not going to resolved easily or, it looks like, soon. Stay tuned.

Tampa Bay Times really can’t stop cheerleading for a new Rays stadium, can it?

Monday morning, and time for Bad Journalism Theater! Let’s get right to it with our first contestant, the Tampa Bay Times, “winner of 10 Pulitzer prizes”:

As the Tampa Bay Rays broaden their search for stadium sites, the 23 acres under the Tampa Park Apartments have emerged as a promising possibility. … But behind the scenes, the complex’s nonprofit owner is embroiled in a 2-year-old lawsuit it filed against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And HUD officials wonder whether the case has its roots in the property’s potential value to the Rays.

There’s nothing wrong with the reporting here — all of the above is accurate. But the framing is incredibly skewed: The Tampa Park Apartments site, which is controversial because it would require relocating 372 low-income families who currently live there and probably a historic school and a church as well, is suddenly portrayed as “promising,” with the one little snag being the fact that the site’s owner doesn’t want to pay her bills, or maybe she already paid them and HUD lost the money, depending on who you believe. (There’s a bunch of stuff about the eviction issues in the Times article, but they don’t start until the 23rd paragraph, and who has time to scroll that far down these days when there are new tweets to check out?)

Okay, that’s not all that terrible journalism, though it’s always worrisome when stadium plans enter the “how can we clear the remaining obstacles?” stage while skipping over the “is this a good idea?” stage. Let’s move on to contestant number two, which is — hey, look, it’s the Tampa Bay Times again! This time with a profile of the Rays vice president in charge of planning a new stadium, who has this to say about it:

Pressed for details, Lenz, the Rays senior vice president for strategy and development, mentions infusing Tampa Bay’s water and abundant sunshine into the bones of a new stadium, but she’s mum on specifics: capacity, upper decks or retractable roofs.

And … that’s it. Lenz apparently wouldn’t say anything about her stadium plans, and instead of the Times killing the story for having no actual news, we get 38 paragraphs about her “salt-of-the-earth genuineness and small-town Pennsylvania charm,” her “mix of toughness and likability,” and the time she got hit by a pitch while playing Little League and told her concerned mom to “get off the field.” Plus a photo of her standing on a baseball field while holding an adorable child.

This is the kind of puff piece that should be taught in journalism school as how not to waste valuable column inches, and would be a winner in today’s faceoff just on those grounds, but it has an ace in the hole as well: That phrase “infusing Tampa Bay’s water and abundant sunshine into the bones of a new stadium” should also be taught in journalism school as a way never ever to mix a metaphor. Unless Lenz secretly works for Weapon X, in which case never mind, it’s great.

Rays owner demands more corporate spending before he’ll build stadium that he’s the one asking for

Now that Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has his get-out-of-St.-Petersburg-cheap card, he’s focusing on the more important things: arm-twisting local businesses into buying more tickets.

“We can canvas everything over a period of time with the assistance of Hillsborough and Pinellas. It’s going to be up to them in a lot of ways to bring out the business and show us that there’s some support,” he said.

Sternberg said it won’t take millions of dollars from area businesses, but he would like to see support in the form of season-ticket sales and luxury suites.

“We’re going to have to first, most importantly, say, ‘What’s it going to take for you to support us?’ ” Sternberg said. “Does it matter where we are? My sense is the answer is yes, it does matter. And OK, why does it matter? And if so, where should we be? And we’ll triangulate it in, and some will say here, and some will say Bradenton, and somebody will say Clearwater and somebody will say Derby Lane, and eventually it’s sort of like we’re going to have a caucus.”

This isn’t a terrible idea — if you’re going to build a new stadium, it does make sense to first figure out whether where you build it is going to affect how many tickets you can sell. (Though this is really something Sternberg might have wanted to look into before spending years insisting that his current stadium location was the reason he wasn’t selling enough tickets, but whatever.) Still, there’s an element here of “show us the money, and then we’ll consider building a new stadium,” which doesn’t make much sense as an ultimatum given that it’s Sternberg who wants the new stadium so he can make more money — if businesses don’t want to support the team regardless, then maybe the stadium isn’t the problem? Just a thought.

Some Canadian suggests Montréal and Tampa sharing Rays, people take it seriously because February

How can you tell it’s a slow time for sports news? When you get a Montréal newspaper (La Presse, in this case) writing that hey, what if the Tampa Bay Rays didn’t totally move to Montréal, but just played half their home games there? Via Google Translate:

According to information obtained by La Presse, the idea of “joint ownership” of Rays with the current owners circulates behind the scenes, not to completely relocate the team to Montreal, but to have “shared custody” in some so.

The Rays would play half their games of the season “regular” in Montreal and the other half in Tampa. One way to help the club in Florida and reduce the bill for potential buyers, here.

“The bite would be less fat, says a source involved in the reflection. You do not have to sign a check for 600 million US, but 300 million. That would dampen spending, but also the risk, given that the team would be attached to both markets simultaneously.”

Hey, that actually makes … no real sense at all. Both cities are fine enough smallish MLB markets, but if what Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is after is a new stadium, he’d then be faced with figuring out how to get two built instead of one — the only place to play baseball in Montréal right now is Olympic Stadium, which is even older and more unpleasantly domed than Tropicana Field. La Presse seems to think that the Rays could make more TV money this way somehow — “‘There would be no 50% discount for the sponsor because the TV rights are sold to two different broadcasters. It’s win-win!’ said an anonymous source” — but this assumes that both Tampa Bay and Montréal fans would be just as interested in half a team as in a whole team, which seems dubious from here.

The last team I can recall trying something like this on more than an interim basis was the Virginia Squires of the ABA, who split their time among Norfolk, Hampton, Richmond, and Roanoke, which are at least within driving distance of each other, not to mention in the same country. The Montreal Bay Rayspos, on the other hand … sorry, there’s no reason to take this seriously based on “reflection” “behind the scenes.”

Unless you’re Tampa Bay Times sportswriter Marc Topkin, who’s never met an opportunity to stump for a new Rays stadium he didn’t like, of course:

A creative, if not desperate, idea to bring baseball back to Montreal was floated today in the the French language newspaper La Presse — buying the Rays and having them play half their home games in Canada and half in the Tampa Bay area.

The idea of “joint ownership” and “shared custody” is said to be circulating “behind the scenes” among Montreal baseball interests, François Cardinal writes.

How many more days till pitchers and catchers, already?

Rays deliver stadium wish list: lots of space, ballpark village, oodles of public cash

In advance of their first stadium talks with Tampa officials on Friday — which were held, no joke, in a Rays team store — Tampa Bay Rays execs released their one-page wish list for a new stadium. The highlights:

  • “The site should be approximately 20 acres in size and support the geometry necessary to accommodate a professional baseball playing surface.” Duh, though not wanting to be wedged into a confined space could spell difficulties for Tampa’s plan to build a stadium on the site of a low-income housing project.
  • “Create an authentic sense of place around the facility and develop a come early-stay late culture around home games.” This is way easier said than done, especially since most baseball games take place immediately after work; it probably best translates as “We want one of them ballpark districts like all the other cool teams have.”
  • The stadium “should honor the rich history of baseball in Tampa Bay.” Presumably this means a statue of Evan Longoria, or maybe even Longoria himself, bronzed and placed out in front of the main gate.
  • “The ability to structure a public-private partnership that would support the construction of the Rays next generation ballpark is critical.” This is the big one (hence that “critical”), and translates as “gimme some money.” While Rays owner Stuart Sternberg would probably love lots of acreage and something allowing him to pretend that Tampa Bay has a rich baseball history, this is going to come down to a building where he can make the biggest profit, and the best way to do that is to spend the least out of his own pocket to begin with. And come on, right now the guy can’t even afford apostrophes, so take pity on him, okay?

As for the meeting itself, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said afterwards that “I’m cautiously optimistic that at the end of the day we’ll be able to find a long-term solution that’s  mutually beneficial for the entire Tampa Bay region,” which means exactly nothing. (Can you envision a scenario, including one where the two sides started grabbing Raymond bobbleheads off the shelves and flinging them at each other, where Hagan would not have said this afterwards?) While it may seem like the Rays stadium war has been going on forever, it’s only just begun in earnest.

Tampa’s plan to raze low-income housing for Rays stadium could doom historic school, too

DRaysBay has more on that plan to build a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium on the site of a low-income housing project, and it’s even worse than it sounded at first:

  • The housing complex is co-owned by a nonprofit originally founded by members of the local African-American community to provide services that were unavailable in the segregated South, which for some reason bears the name the Lily White Security Benefit Association. It barely exists nowadays — no website and a meager $361,327 budget — but is still eager to sell the land under the housing complex for $9 million.
  • Relocating the 372 families currently occupying the apartments would cost from $9.3 million to $27.9 million, assuming somewhere can be found to move them to.
  • The site is too small for a stadium, so to make sufficient room the city of Tampa would also probably have to raze the historic Booker T. Washington Elementary School. Plus maybe a public library and a Catholic church.
  • The highway access isn’t great, so somebody would need to pay for new ramps from I-275 and I-4.

And as a punchline, DRaysBay recounts this troubling list, then notes:

For all these reasons, Mayor Buckhorn has indicated his support for this site.

Florida, man.

Tampa mayor thinks evicting poor African-American families to make way for Rays stadium is great idea

So now that Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg can look elsewhere in the Tampa Bay area for a stadium site, where’s he going to look? How about the site of a low-income housing complex? The mayor of Tampa sure thinks so!

Mayor Bob Buckhorn couldn’t deny he had a favorite site.

It’s the Tampa Park Apartments, a nearly 50-year-old apartment complex for 372 low-income families between downtown and Ybor City.

“I don’t hide my optimism for that particular site,” he said after a City Hall news conference Friday.

This led to one of the most amazingly understated series of words ever to appear in any U.S. newspaper:

The complex also presents a challenge: It’s full of poor, mostly black families, some who have lived there for generations.

So wouldn’t evicting them for a new stadium just repeat what happened in St. Petersburg’s Gas Plant neighborhood before Tropicana Field was built?

“That would be the biggest issue,” Buckhorn conceded.

The Tampa Tribune also provides its own coverage of the proposal, none of which includes the sentence, “Holy crap, the mayor of Tampa really wants to evict a thousand poor people so he can build a new stadium for the local baseball team owner, is he campaigning for the role of supervillain in the next Marvel Cinematic Universe movie or what?” Which is technically a run-on sentence, so that’s probably why it got edited out.

Rays get their St. Pete lease buyout, now just have to figure how to build new stadium elsewhere

Two months and change after picking up a key swing vote in the November elections, the St. Petersburg city council finally voted 5-3 to approve conditions under which the Tampa Bay Rays can seek out new stadiums sites within the Tampa Bay region, but outside of St. Pete itself.

In short, the deal means that Rays owner Stuart Sternberg can start negotiating for other stadium sites immediately (under the Rays’ original lease, this was a thought crime), in exchange for which he’d have to pay a modest fee (starting at $42 million and lessening in later years) if the team moves before its lease is up in 2027. This isn’t a huge payoff considering St. Pete really had him over a barrel, but this gets him to stop whining about his lease and potentially gives St. Pete the chance to redevelop the Tropicana Field site if the Rays leave — the standoff over who’d get the proceeds from development was apparently resolved by letting the Rays split any revenues, but only if they build a new stadium on the Trop site and develop around it — and 2027 isn’t all that far away anyway, and you know, whatever.

The big question now isn’t what buyout fee St. Pete arranged, but what kind of subsidies Sternberg will look for now as he (presumably) plays off the two sides of the bay against each other. If I’m an elected official in Hillsborough or Pinellas, I’d be saying, “We’ll welcome you if you choose to come here, but if it means giving you tax dollars we’ll put up with driving across a bridge to watch Logan Forsythe or whoever is still left on your roster by then.” Yeah, we’ve established that most elected officials don’t think that way, but there’s always hope, right?

[ADDENDUM: Forgot to mention this, but it’s kind of important: SBNation’s Rays blogger Daniel Russell wrote this morning of the lease revision, “This was a necessary vote for the Rays to make any progress toward remaining in Tampa Bay.” Um, no. Under the old lease, Sternberg couldn’t move the Rays anywhere until 2027, at which point he was free to go anywhere. Under the new lease, he move within Tampa Bay starting now, then in 2027 can still move anywhere. This does absolutely squat to keep the team in Tampa Bay, unless you think that a stadium elsewhere in the bay area is easier to negotiate now than in 2027, or that Sternberg is so desperate to get out of the Trop now-now-now that he’ll agree to a bad (for him) stadium deal in Tampa in 2016 even if it means giving up the leverage of being able to move to some other city offering a way better deal (I can’t actually think of what city this would be) in 2027. This is a “fine, pay us some money and go across the bay and don’t bother us anymore” vote, no more, no less, and pretending otherwise is painting it as some kind of boon for Rays fans that it really, really isn’t.]

Rays owner complains other rich owners are richer than him, sows confusion on TV deal

Tampa Bay Times sportswriter Marc Topkin handed over his column yesterday to Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, for a long interview about how his team doesn’t have as much money as other teams and it’s just so unfair. (Sample quote: “It’s tough when the other guy is driving a tank and I’m sitting there on a three-speed bicycle.”) And while it may seem an odd time to whine about market disparities when the Kansas City Royals just won the World Series and the Arizona Diamondbacks just signed the best free-agent pitcher to a record contract, Sternberg has an answer to that, too: Those teams have been able to convert winning into increased TV revenues, which the Rays don’t have access to.

But wait! Isn’t 2016 the year when the Rays get to sign a new TV contract, possibly quintupling their annual media revenues?

Nuh-uh, says Sternberg, as relayed by Topkin:

A presumably rich new TV deal “a few years from now” — not after 2016 as has been reported — should also provide a welcome revenue boost.

Which left a whole lot of Rays watchers going “Um, what?”

Topkin, however, was insistent:

Okay, a couple of things here. First off, jeez, Topkin, if you’re going to drop a bombshell like that into a column, you really owe it to your readers to explain what you’re talking about. Also, to ask Sternberg to go back and explain himself — what does “a couple of years” mean exactly? — even if it means interrupting his self-selected narrative for a minute.

As for what happened here, we can only speculate, but it looks like the 2016 figure goes back to a 2010 report from Sports Business Daily, which said (as cited in the Tampa Bay Times) that “after the Rays renewed their contract with Fox Sports Florida in 2008, they are now locked in until 2016.” So maybe there were some option years at the end of the deal? Or maybe SBD got it wrong? (Though stuff like TV deals is usually their bread-and-butter.) Or Sternberg decided at some point to extend the Fox deal for his own unscrutable reasons, and didn’t tell anyone until now? Who knows!

The bigger question, to my mind, is why Sternberg is crying poor in a public forum at this particular moment. It could be:

  1. To distract fans from the fact that his team hasn’t acquired any good new players in eons, and this winter doesn’t look to be any different.
  2. An early shot across the bow of MLB in advance of next winter’s collective bargaining agreement renegotiation, in hopes of getting increased revenue sharing money for teams in small markets with crappy TV deals and whiny owners.
  3. Attempted leverage with St. Petersburg officials to show that he neeeeeeds a new stadium (you knew I’d get around to stadiums eventually, right?), and so they should hurry up and approve that lease buyout deal already.

Or all of the above! In any case, all this talk about bicycles and tanks (which, as Craig Calcaterra notes, ignores the facts that 1) Sternberg knew what team he was getting when he bought it, 2) the Rays are still making money regardless, and 3) the franchise has more than quadrupled in value in the 11 years Sternberg has owned it) isn’t going to help the Rays sell any tickets. But then, selling tickets is what the Royals do. Those bastards.

New St. Pete councilmember could be deciding vote for Rays lease buyout

You can tell how blasé I’ve become about this whole electoral-process-making-any-difference thing when I didn’t even bother to check until late yesterday who’d won what in stadium-related races. (I knew about Ohio rejecting pot monopolies and Kentucky electing a crazy guy governor, because Facebook, duh.) So, a quick recap:

  • Glendale, Arizona voters recalled city councilmember Gary Sherwood, who’d been one of the prime supporters of the Arizona Coyotes and their sweetheart lease deal. Not that it matters all that much — Glendale’s council was already solidly against the Coyotes lease, and Sherwood has already said he’s planning to run for his old seat again next August — but Coyotes owner Anthony LeBlanc should probably give up on waiting for Glendale to come to what he thinks its senses should be.
  • The one open seat on the St. Peterburg city council has gone to Lisa Wheeler-Brown, who could give Mayor Rick Kriseman a pivotal fifth vote (out of eight) in support of his plan to let the Tampa Bay Rays buy their way out of their lease clause preventing them from moving elsewhere in the metropolitan area. That means that come January, Kriseman could presumably reintroduce his plan, which the old council rejected but Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is okay with, and have it approved, which could lead to the Rays stadium chase moving into the “see which local governments we can shake loose how much money from” phase.

And that may be it, so far as I can tell. It was a slow election day — I hear there’s something bigger at stake next year, so I’ll to try to pay more attention by then.