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Rays answer your questions

11

December

Rays We'd like to thank Rays president Matt Silverman and senior VP Michael Kalt for joining us here today and taking your questions. We received more than 50 questions in advance, with the most common topics concerning weather and parking. Some were on issues that have been covered, such as whether the Grand Prix race can continue if the new stadium is built (The Rays say it can). We also got several inquiries about what's wrong with Tropicana Field. And more than a few fans wanted to know about plans for making the team better. We also received queries about our methods, and wanted to make it clear that the Times chose the questions and did not provide them ahead of time to the Rays officials. That said, here are the ones we considered the most interesting, relevant and with the broadest appeal. Feel free to leave questions or comments in the 'Comments' area below . -- Marc Topkin, Times staff writer
(Pictured: Michael Kalt, left, and Matt Silverman. Times photo - John Pendygraft. Click to enlarge.)

Is this a done deal, secretly hashed out with the city, mayor, governor, and other assorted representatives of private business ... er, I mean, the people? ... Is all this Q/A just a window dressing to placate the citizens who will, once again, be duped into paying for the gains and profits of private enterprise? Will any of these questions be answered truthfully? -- Jess

MK:  This is far from a done deal.  There is a tremendous amount of public process still ahead of us, including a public RFP on the Trop site and, of course, a public referendum that will  hopefully take place next November.  So there will be plenty of opportunity for public input and it will ultimately be the public who will decide the fate of the project.

Why was most of this done behind closed doors up until this point? What do the Rays feel they need to hide? -- Rays fan

MS:  We want to engage the public in this process.  That's why it was important for the Rays to announce these projects last month.  We worked with the City to determine if the project merited an announcement. We also needed to be prepared to answer preliminary questions about the projects.  With the announcement, we can now fully engage the public in the process.  We expect the public will help craft the ultimate form of both development projects.

If you could get out of your lease today, would you move the team? Why do you think you should share in the sale of an asset (Tropicana Field) you don't own? When you sell the Rays, can the City of St. Petersburg share in the money that is made?  -- Chris Allen

MK:  If we could get out of our lease today, we would be proposing the exact same projects that we're currently putting forward.  This is not about sharing in an asset we don't own.  It's about trying to create something greater than what currently exists for everyone.

Those cables extending from the stands to that giant mast beyond centerfield seem like they will be pretty ugly. Instead of odd catwalks to look at, we will have a giant mast with ugly cables. How will the cables be made attractive-looking, or how will they become 'invisible' and will that giant pole/mast be decorated in some way? It seems really ugly and weird in the current images of the new stadium. -- David Gross

MS:  The cables will vary in size but most will be only a couple inches wide.  We expect that they will be barely visible.  The mast is a design element that will continue to be refined as the project moves forward--it also serves a practical purpose as the primary support for the roof that will cover the entire playing field. 

At the new stadium, the Rays are losing approximately 9,000 seats and a lot of parking revenue, which I'm sure will result in extremely higher ticket prices. How are you possibly going to keep tickets affordable (and ticket plans) for the average fan, who were able to buy tickets at the Trop for $9-14 and have a decent view of the game?  -- Danny DiNicolantonio, St. Petersburg
(In a related question, James Parese asked whether prices and seat location will remain the same for "inaugural" original season ticket holders?)


MK:  Ticket prices are and will continue to be amongst the most affordable in all of professional sports.  There are a number of elements that we're considering to maintain a price point that is as low or lower than the lowest price seat at the Trop, including a general admission ticket that would allow families an inexpensive way to come to the game and sit on a berm or in the area behind RF.

There has been a lot of talk about rainouts with the new stadium, especially during the summer months. We have all seen diagrams of the proposed new stadium and have been told by ownership that a tent-like covering can be rolled out to cover the seating. In all of the diagrams I have seen, not all of the seating is covered. What percentage of the total seating would be covered in the event of rain? My hope is that we are not just covering the expensive seats, but those seats (i.e., outfield or upper deck) that most families can afford. -- Tim Capps

MK:  There will not be rain outs or rain delays, except in the most extreme of circumstances.  The vast majority of seats (at least 90%, if not all) will be covered.  The roof will not only cover the expensive seats.

If the Rays are interested in an open-air stadium, why not remove the roof from Tropicana Field? The stability of the building is not dependent on its roof. You can still install this miraculous fabric that will keep the fans cool during July afternoons. The cost of demolition, and the installation of a 300-foot water tower, will be far less than a new stadium that will not have parking. -- Salvatore Reale, Seminole
(In a related question, Frank of St. Petersburg asked about putting a retractable roof on the Trop such as in Milwaukee, Arizona, Houston or even Montreal?)


MS: We investigated that option.  In addition to it not being financially practical, Tropicana Field wasn't weatherproofed when constructed.  For example, the seating bowl lacks drainage and the electrical systems were not made to withstand weather.  The design for the waterfront park provides the same benefits of a retractable roof stadium like the ones mentioned while fitting into the beautiful waterfront. 

Rays2 The organization claims to be building the most environmentally friendly stadium in all of major league sports. How are you going to get approval to dredge and fill a small part of Tampa Bay that is covered in sea grass? -- Matthew McCoy, U.S. Naval Academy student

(Pictured: Michael Kalt, left, and Matt Silverman. Times photo - John Pendygraft. Click to enlarge.)

MK:  We've already done extensive surveys of the area and there are only spotty patches of sea grass.  That said, we clearly will need to mitigate for any adverse environmental impacts caused by the relocation of Bayshore Drive.  And we are carrying a substantial number in our project budget to do just that.

If you are so confident that a new downtown ballpark will be successful, then why are you not willing to finance the ENTIRE cost? -- George

MS:  It is not viable for our business to finance an entire ballpark.  We would not be able to adequately operate our business and compete on the field.  Our proposal makes use of the development potential of Tropicana Field and some of the benefits of adding the property back onto the tax rolls.  Without our ability to contribute this asset to the projects, we would not have put forth this proposal, and the Trop and its land would remain undeveloped for the next 20 years.

How confident are you that a redevelopment of the current Trop site can be a viable economic success? (Is Mr. Sternberg) willing to put your proverbial money where your mouth is and invest in that project as well? -- Franki T, The Freaki Tiki Bar, Clearwater


MK:  Based on our initial outreach, we are very confident that the development on the Trop site can and will be successful, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in new property and sales tax revenue to the City and County that would otherwise not materialize if we simply played out the duration of our lease at the Trop.  That is why a firm with the history and reputation of Hines is interested in it.  We anticipate being a part of the investor group at the Trop site, but that is somewhat dependent upon the outcome of the public RFP process.

It is nice that the SPT is lobbing you only softball questions. We're almost halfway through this and there is no mention of the financing.

1) Why should the city float bonds against future rent payments? This essentially means the team has no up-front, out of pocket expenses.

2) Why is there no discussion on how to pay off the existing financing on the Trop?

3) Why should the money from the sale and redevelopment of the Trop site benefit the team, not the owners of the property?

4) Who is going to be responsible for either cost overruns or shortfalls in the projected revenue from the sale and redevelopment of the Trop? -- Ron


MS:  The three major issues we'll be addressing over the next eleven months are parking, fan comfort and financing.  The first step in determining a financing plan for the new ballpark is for the City to issue the RFP for the Trop site.  The details for the financing plan will follow from the results of the RFP.  We are committed to the principal that no new tax dollars will be used to finance the ballpark and existing funds that are being used for other City and County services will not be adversely impacted.  We expect that the development of the Trop site will not only allow us to finance a large chunk of the ballpark, but that it will also generate tens of millions of dollars that will go towards schools (which otherwise would not be generated).

In your last post you mentioned not being able to compete on the field financially if you accepted the entire financing of the stadium. Do you seriously consider the triple a garbage that has been on the field for the last 10 years competing????? -- kh

MK:  This is exactly the point.  We want to be in a financial situation where we can afford to put the best possible product on the field for our fans.  And while it's unfair to characterize the product on the field as you do, the simple fact is that the new ballpark will greatly improve our ability to retain the great young talent we continue to amass.

What specific actions will the Rays take to minimize the discomfort to fans watching games outside in the summer heat and weather? I have heard that some seats will be air-conditioned. Where will those seating areas be located?

MS:  We will employ a number of measures to improve fan comfort.  It is imperative that the fan experience be a pleasant one.  While it won't be a stable 72 degrees in the new park, we expect it will be comfortable.  Certainly there will be air conditioned areas including the concourse.  The roof not only works to shield from the rain but also from the sun, minimizing it's impact during daylight hours.  We expect the combination of these measures will result in the THI (temperature humidity index) being less than other baseball cities like Atlanta and Arlington, TX and being similar to places like Kansas City and Baltimore.

The current Tropicana Field is supposed to be turned into affordable housing. I was wondering if you had a rough idea of what 'affordable' meant. Also, I was wondering if you had thought of making the current Trop, without demolishing it, into an indoor facility similar to Chennelside. If you could fill it with shopping and nightlife, you would still be able to keep plenty of parking available. With some sort of trolley system, I thought this could work. -- Jason, St. Petersburg

MK:  There is still a lot of work to be done to define the affordable housing component of the project, but at a high level, affordable means housing for people who earn less than the average median income in the area.  As for the current Trop, we've looked at various options for repurposing the building.  Unfortunately, it's unlikely that any of them would work.  The building has a number of structural issues and was not constructed with the idea of housing retail amenities inside.  Although it would obviously be preferable if this were not the case, the value of the property is likely much greater without the Trop on it.

Silverman2 Though your plan requires 'no new taxes,' it does ask for a tax subsity that will take money out of our local economy. What do you say to fans who are wondering why they should support the subsidy when the chief financial beneficiaries are a group of New York multimillionaires? -- Paul D. Schulz

(Pictured: Michael Kalt, left, and Matt Silverman. Times photo - John Pendygraft. Click to enlarge.)

MS:  It will not take money out of the local economy.  It should add to it, and we'll be able to demonstrate that more fully once the financing plan is developed.  We are talking about a development that would not otherwise exist, an amenity that will not only draw visitors from throughout Tampa Bay but also provide a new economic driver for the City and County.  Our ownership is committed to running the Rays as a breakeven business.  All revenues generated by the business are reinvested in the business whether it's in Major League Payroll, International Operations or Tropicana Field upkeep.

Instead of investing so much money, time and effort into changing the bay near the new ballpark, how about a high fence similar to Fenway? -- Rich Perry, St. Pete

MK:  A high fence won't solve the issue.  Without relocating Bayshore, we'd be looking at a seriously compromised dimension down the RF line (probably something shorter than 270 feet).  Moreover, we tried to design the ballpark with an eye towards preserving views of the waterfront, not blocking them off with a huge wall.

Has Mr. Silverman ever walked 15 blocks in the August afternoon humidity in St. Pete, as he wants Rays patrons to do? -- Dave Butcher Towzey

MS:  The distances we're talking about are much shorter than 15 blocks.  Many fans currently walk long distances to Tropicana Field today, either from our parking lots or from private ones.  The walks to the new park would be of similar distance.  Growing up in Texas, I frequently attended games in Arlington where we'd park at the Six Flags remote lots and walk in the 100 degree heat to the ballpark.  What we have in St. Pete is significantly more tolerable than that. 

We will continue to make ourselves available to answer your questions about these projects.  Please check www.majorleaguedowntown.com for updated information on these projects including dates and times of public outreach meetings. Thanks for the questions and for your interest in these projects.

That's all we have time for today, as we tried to mix in some of the live questions and those that were sent in ahead of time. About 20 questions were answered and we received more than 80 comments, as Michael Kalt and Matt Silverman stuck around for an additional half-hour. We'll try to get a few more answered in the near future and post those as well.  Additional comments are welcome and we will try to do this again sometime. Thanks for taking a look - Marc Topkin, Times staff writer.

[Last modified: Monday, December 21, 2009 12:33am]

    

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