Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Business

Romano: The first thing the Rays need to build is consensus

And so the construction of a baseball stadium begins today. Not with bulldozers and cranes. That will come much later, if at all.

The first thing that must be built is a consensus, and that is the purpose of today’s announcement by the Tampa Bay Rays. Team leaders will do their best to convince politicians, residents and business leaders that an Ybor City stadium is an investment worth making.

Just how difficult is that task?

Well, the last attempt failed.

Quite miserably, if you recall.

Nearly 11 years ago, the Rays had a similar unveiling of plans for a waterfront stadium in downtown St. Petersburg. Seven months later, the Rays announced they were abandoning those plans.

In some ways, the rhetoric today will sound the same. The Rays are promising a forward-looking stadium unlike anything else in Major League Baseball. But there will also be major differences, some clearly good and some presumably bad.

Let’s go over some of those issues, and then you can decide whether the Ybor City plan has a better chance of succeeding than that illusory waterfront park.

Neighborhood vibe: No comparison. One of the biggest impediments the Rays faced in St. Petersburg were grumpy residents who didn’t want Al Lang Stadium razed in favor of a larger structure. While there has been sniping about traffic and parking in Ybor City, there seems to be much more enthusiasm about a stadium giving a boost to a chunk of land that has been under-utilized.

Referendum: Again, no comparison. The last time, the Rays were going to need a voter-approved referendum to build on the waterfront. That’s not an issue this go-around.

Political support: Elected officials may not be wearing rally hats in Hillsborough, but it’s still better than 2007. Back then, St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker was officially non-committal but he might as well have been carrying the Grim Reaper’s scythe. Current Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is not going to stick his neck on the line, but he did help pave the way for potential federal funds for construction. Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan has led the charge unlike anyone in Pinellas or St. Pete in ’07.

Stadium design: The Rays went for an innovative look last time with a sail-like roof cover. At best, people were intrigued. Mostly, they were skeptical. You can expect the new design to fit more with the tone of Ybor City, with a smaller capacity and fewer upper-deck seats. Given the expense of a retractable roof (not to mention it would almost always be closed) it will likely have a fixed roof with lots of windows to give it an outdoor feel, a la stadiums in Miami and Houston.

Funding sources: Last time, the Rays planned to use revenue from the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site for the bulk of funding. This time, the funding could come from a variety of sources, including taxes in the stadium district, a jock tax assessed on visiting players and tourism taxes.

Price tag: And here is the potential deal-killer. The fan-friendly and year-round-use features better be awfully inviting because the cost will probably approach $900 million. In ’07, the cost was $450 million and the Rays offered to pay $150 million. By that standard, they should be in for $300 million this time.

So what do you think? Shall we start the bulldozers?

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