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Romano: Your own stadium taste test




ST. PETERSBURG — As first impressions go, this one is certainly intriguing.
The Rays have come up with a stadium proposal that is attractive,  innovative and ambitious.

It is also a long, long way from reality.

Based on the details revealed today by the Rays, there are no obvious flaws to the plan. St. Petersburg taxpayers will not have any money flow out of their bank accounts or from current city funds, and the entire area could benefit greatly from the retail/housing/entertainment development being proposed near midtown.

The problem is perception. As a team, the Rays have not won enough games to claim the hearts of the Tampa Bay area. And as an owner, Stuart Sternberg has not spent enough money to earn the public’s trust.

So you begin with skepticism, and go from there.

Sort of like every Opening Day around here.

The Rays understand this will be a problem. They know your first question will be about financing. They know your second question will be about the weather. They know your third question will be about parking.

Team officials believe they have the proper answers to those questions, and hundreds of others. But having an answer is not the same thing as changing someone’s mind. And I think a lot of minds are already made up.

Here then, is your own stadium taste test. Consider each issue, ponder the logic offered by the Rays, and decide for yourself whether this stadium deal is worth pursuing.

The Deal

Basically, the Rays are saying the 15 acres at Al Lang are more valuable as a site for a baseball stadium and the 80 acres at Tropicana Field are more valuable as a development site. So they are proposing to swap land with the proceeds from the Tropicana site financing the construction of both sites.

The team will be responsible for cost overruns and is not going to charge fans for personal seat licenses. If that plan holds up to scrutiny, it’s difficult to find fault with it.

Agree or disagree?

The Weather

The Rays say watching a game at this ballpark will be cooler than summer games in Atlanta or Texas. They say the breeze from the water and the design of the stadium will have a natural cooling effect.

I’m not sure I buy the idea that it will be cooler than Atlanta, but I do think people are overreacting to the heat question. Probably 75 percent of the Rays home games are played at night. You may not have a fresh breeze blowing through your hair, but it’s not like you’re going to roast while sitting waterside at 7:30 p.m.

Agree or disagree?

The Parking

It is not going to be as simple as Tropicana Field or Raymond James or the St. Pete Times Forum. The stadium itself will have a very limited number of parking spaces, so fans will have to find alternative parking in downtown St. Pete.

The Rays say their studies show an ample number of parking spaces within a 15-minute walk of the stadium site. Frankly, this idea should thrill the city. It will bring added dollars and customers to downtown retailers and restaurants.

The Rays are the ones who stand to lose on this issue. Most teams get considerable revenue from parking charges. The Rays will get none.

Agree or disagree?

The Stadium

It’s hard to judge based on sketches and virtual reality tours, but the initial impression was not spectacular. The waterfront view is certainly attractive, but the stadium itself did not look particularly charming or homey.

Sternberg said the Rays did not want to follow the trend of retro ballparks and instead wanted to take stadium design into the 21st century, so the stadium will not have a single brick. But the reason retro ballparks work is not because they’re the latest fad but because they have a classic elegance. Bricks are like blue jeans. They never go out of style.

Agree or disagree?

The Perception

Again, this may be the most difficult hurdle for the Rays.

No matter what they say about financing, there will be suspicions that current tax money is being diverted to a team owned by millionaires. And there will be accusations that Sternberg is squeezing money out of the Bay Area while refusing to dramatically increase the team’s payroll.

This issue will come down to a matter of trust. If all the business proposals work — and that is no guarantee — Sternberg will still have to convince voters to approve the referendum in 12 months.

The man is sharp, and he is sincere. He may want to consider townhall-style meetings to answer the questions of concerned citizens. The future of his team, and the direction of the city, may depend on this.

Agree or disagree?

John Romano can be reached at [email protected].

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


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