Thursday, September 20, 2018
Business

Romano: It’s time to decide if Tampa Bay is a big-league market

Let’s start with the obvious:

Whoa!

That goes for the design and price tag of the stadium the Tampa Bay Rays proposed in Ybor City on Tuesday. It was visually intriguing and economically daunting.

So feel free to be excited, to be skeptical, to be all of the above.

But this column is not about the translucent roof or the mostly vague suggestions of creative funding resources.

There is a much simpler question that must be addressed first:

As a community, does Tampa Bay want to be in the business of Major League Baseball?

Because, really, that’s what this is all about. The cost of remaining a big-league market can be hefty. Some would say the cost of losing a Major League team is hefty as well.

Since 1961, five cities have lost an MLB team. Four of those cities eventually fought to get back into the game. The fifth, Montreal, is now one of the cities on the prowl for a franchise such as the Rays.

I’m not saying the Rays are on the verge of leaving any time soon. In fact, I’d be stunned if MLB would open itself to the lawsuit that St. Petersburg would file if the Rays tried to vacate the market before 2027.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Rays unveil their plans for an Ybor City ballpark: All our coverage of the stadium

What I am saying is Major League Baseball is an exclusive business, and membership typically comes at a high price. Tampa Bay now has a better idea of that price, and must decide whether it wants to pay.

"The appetite for an additional burden on the average citizen is nonexistent,’’ said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "But if we can craft this so the burden is shifted to the tourists, to the developers, to those who benefit from the construction around the stadium, potentially a rental car surcharge, then I think it becomes more palatable to the average citizen and the (politicians).’’

RELATED: Rays’ Ybor stadium revealed: Translucent roof, $892 million price tag

This is not typically how stadium deals are made. Usually, a team is closer to the end of its lease. So you might argue the Rays are jumping the gun by several years. On the other hand, there is usually a lot more bluster and threats and the occasional leaked report of a team official showing up in an MLB-starved city such as Montreal or Portland or Nashville.

In that sense, we have a chance for a bloodless conclusion. No nastiness. No finger-pointing. Just a market deciding whether it has the wherewithal and desire to invest in Major League Baseball.

If the answer is yes, the time is right because the cost is only going to grow. If not, it’s better to decide now.

REACTION: What fans in and around the Trop are saying

"I’d be lying if I said advisers haven’t told us that we need to threaten to leave town before anything is going to happen, and we need to start trying to dance with people in other cities,’’ team president Brian Auld said. "This region has had such a bad history of all of that, that we’ve never wanted it to go that way. We don’t think it has to go that way. We’re really banking on the fact that this vision makes sense in a lot of ways, not just for the Tampa Bay Rays but for the whole community.’’

When the ballroom was mostly cleared, the talking had died down and the visual presentations had been taken down from their easels, I asked owner Stu Sternberg his gut feeling about the stadium’s viability.

For several seconds, he was silent.

"It’s going to be hard,’’ he finally said. "It’s going to be really hard.’’

MORE ON THE STADIUM PLANS

RELATED: What you need to know about the Rays’ proposed Ybor City ballpark

CLOSER LOOK: Peeking inside the Rays stadium plans

MARTIN FENNELLY: The question behind the Rays stadium plans unveiling

ON SOCIAL MEDIA: What they’re saying about the Rays’ new stadium plans

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