Friday, February 23, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: The search for cash for a new Rays stadium

All those sugar plum fairies were very nice while they lasted. Now it's time to cue the bean counter ballet.

For many months, we've been witness to the great Tampa Bay Rays stadium saga. Should they stay in St. Petersburg? Or should they go eastward? On both sides of Tampa Bay, the hotsy-tots of St. Petersburg and Tampa have ruminated and chin-rubbed and pondered over potential sites for a new home for the Rays.

Name a locale, and it has probably been considered at some point as a peachy perch for the Rays. At this rate, Fort Lonesome cannot be entirely ruled out.

Of course, there have been all manner of renderings suggesting what a new stadium might look like. And if Tampa Bay is good at anything, it is cranking out finger paintings of dreams. It's been all very nice.

We can probably assume that anyone who claims to know how this will end is more delusional than Elmer Fudd believing he has Bugs Bunny right where he wants him.

No matter how lovely a future splotch of land might be for the Rays, or how beautiful a new stadium might appear on paper, sooner or later, somebody needs to figure out a way to pay for it. And since a spiffy stadium is expected to cost somewhere between a gazillion and a bazillion dollars — and 37 cents, a big chuck of that somewhere is invariably going to be shouldered by you.

In recent days, Tampa Bay Times reporters Mark Puente, Charlie Frago and Steve Contorno explored the potential financing possibilities on both sides of the bay.

In Hillsborough, financing options run the gamut, including creating an entertainment district around any new stadium that could dip into a percentage of sales to help underwrite a new ol' ball park. Imposing a new tax on rental cars is on the table. Adding a surcharge to ticket sales and selling off development rights is a possibility.

Then, of course, there is the old classic standby of panhandling the Florida Legislature to cough up about $2 million a year, for the next 30 years.

The one option that you probably won't hear very much about is a Community Investment Tax scheme, which was used more than 20 years ago to pay for Helloooooo Sucker Stadium, the home of the National Football League's Fighting Marigolds of Dale Mabry.

That debacle paved the way for the team's owner, the late Malcolm Glazer and his bouncing bundles of joy, Stop and Frisk, to enjoy one of the great sweetheart deals almost anywhere in sports, where the public was on the hook for every expense and the Glazers got to keep almost all of the revenue.

At first blush, it might seem St. Petersburg's fortunes for keeping the team in the city would be enhanced for the simplest of reasons. The city already owns the vast expanse of land where Tropicana Field sits. A new stadium on the site could possibly be financed with help from a tax increment financing district that includes the Tropicana site and the downtown waterfront.

But St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman already is hitting up Pinellas County for additional money to bolster the dubious Pier project. The Pinellas County Commission isn't exactly warming to the idea of throwing even more money from tax increment financing to finance a new stadium.

County Administrator Mark Woodard has asked for more details from Kriseman on who would pay for what in building a new Rays stadium. Woodard is still waiting for a response.

Meanwhile, the beans of time continue to flow.

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