If stadium is such a deal, put it in writing

According to the Tampa Bay Rays' pitch for a new stadium, the deal practically pays for itself.

True, the taxpayers would be on the hook for at least $175-million, or even more if you do the math differently (which I do).

But in theory, we would still come out ahead.

We would sell off the 85-acre site of Tropicana Field to developers. We would rake in lots of new property taxes on what was built there.

In just a few years, we would be taking in more new taxes than our payments on the stadium. Such a deal!

That's the pitch.

Here is the problem. They won't say it in writing.

Nowhere in this three-sided deal (city, developer, Rays) is there any guarantee that the taxpayers' cost would be covered.

Maybe you think that it's a good deal anyway — that's a fair contention. After all, we would keep the same payment, get a new stadium and lots of other benefits to boot.

But that's not the way this deal is being pitched. The pitch is that it pays for itself. So let's consider that claim.

If the developer is really going to build all this neat-o stuff on Tropicana Field, hundreds of millions of dollars worth added to the tax rolls, how come we can't get any guarantee at all?

Both the developers and the Rays executives say, whenever I ask this question, that I just don't understand how the business world works.

Yes, that's it. I'm sitting here in West Rubonia, wearing my bib overalls and picking my teeth with straw, and I do not know how business works.

So, forgive me for being a small-town yahoo when I do not properly ooh and aah over Hines or any other developer.

I don't care what else they have built. I don't care if they've built the Sydney Opera House, the International Space Station and the Great Wall of China.

We still should get a guarantee. By X year, there will be X dollars in property-tax benefit from this deal, or else an equivalent cash payment, guaranteed to cover the public's share of the stadium debt.

My friends and neighbors on both sides of this issue can fight over all the rest of the topics — the best use of the waterfront, the environmental stuff, the traffic, the parking, the noise, the heat.

Me, I can be had on the money question.

I'll help lay the cornerstone. I'll help shoo away the manatees and dredge up the bay. I'll help direct the traffic jams, and tend to the heatstroke victims. I'll even answer the calls to the noise-complaint hotline from Bayfront Tower.

All for this price:

An ironclad guarantee that the property-tax revenue, or an equivalent required payment from somebody, always covers the public's share of the debt.

If what the Rays and the developers claim is true, this shouldn't be a problem — heck, it shouldn't even be a close call. It should be like dickering over floor mats once we've agreed to buy the car.

For sure, Mayor Rick Baker and the City Council still must protect the citizens in a lot of other ways. There have to be all kinds of contingencies and assurances in the contracts.

But if I were one of those elected officials, this would be both the starting point and the ending point.

The Rays say this deal will pay for itself.

You know what? I believe them. I am on their side. All I want is this little extra thing, these floor mats for the car.

Otherwise, no sale.

If stadium is such a deal, put it in writing 05/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 22, 2008 5:34pm]

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