Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: So why is it taking so long to reach a Rays stadium deal? Or not?

Forgive just a pinch of cynical hyperbole.

For better or worse, the recent summit meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore was announced and thrown together in a matter of weeks.

And this was an international diplomatic initiative to discuss nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula, which could obliterate the world, kill millions of people and forever change the course of human history, or whatever would be left of it.

Meanwhile, after nearly three years of hang-wringing and dilly-dallying and shilly-shallying, the Tampa Bay Rays are still trying to figure out where they will be playing baseball one of these days.

In theory at least, how hard should this be?

PREVIOUS COVERAGE Deadline clock ticking on Rays agreement with St. Petersburg

For years, the Rays have whined and moaned about what a horrible place Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg is to play baseball. And there is some truth to that complaint.

The Trop isnít much more than a glorified Quonset Hut with a gland problem. Attendance lurks somewhere between the crowd for Charles Mansonís funeral and an Adam Sandler film festival.

Thus it was that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the City Council approved an agreement giving the team three years to begin looking elsewhere, including Hillsborough County, for a better splotch of land to build a new ballpark. The clock started running in 2016 and expires at the end of this year.

And we are still nowhere close to breaking ground. Or consider it only took a little more than a year to build the Empire State Building.

With a Dec. 31 deadline quickly looming, while the Rays have indeed announced theyíve settled on a site in the Ybor City neighborhood, precious little progress on advancing a new ballpark project seems evident.

To date, no formal agreement has been cobbled together to move the team to Tampa and there seems to be no firm grasp on how to pay for what would quite likely be a new ballpark at a cost of upwards of $800 million-plus. Or put another way, it only took about a year to plan the Normandy Invasion, the largest sea-based military assault in history. Yet the powers that be in Tampa canít figure out how to move a baseball team across the Howard Frankland Bridge.

Isnít this why God created lawyers?

As the Tampa Bay Timesís Charlie Frago has reported, under the current agreement, the Rays are obligated to pay the city of St. Petersburg $2 million a year between 2023 and 2026 if the team is playing in a new facility by then.

But what if the Rays canít make a deal happen and relocating the team gets delayed, which seems more than reasonable at this point? Nobody seems to know.

Or simply imagine that the Rays will have had 36 months to identify a site, agree on a design and arrange financing and very little appears to have materialized.

If the original agreement dies on the vine on Dec. 31, St. Petersburg could simply terminate the deal, begin redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site and begin collecting compensation from the Rays immediately.

Or a new deal could be reached with the team increasing the compensation to around $2.5 million a year. Or everybody could merely go back to the original deal requiring the team to remain in St. Petersburg until its lease expires in 2027.

Or consider it only took a year to build the original Yankee Stadium.

This soap opera is quickly becoming The Days of Our Rays. On and on and on and ...

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who has been one of the most visible boosters of a Rays stadium in Tampa, told Frago he didnít think financial details of a new ballpark needed to be finalized before the Dec. 31 date.

But doesnít everything hinge on how to pay for the cockamamie ball field? It is true Rome wasnít built in a day. But at least Romulus and Remus had a line of credit.

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