Monday, August 20, 2018
Opinion

Henderson: MLB should heed Dolphins owner, fund new Rays stadium

There is nothing like Opening Day. The smell of freshly raked artificial turf. The crack of the bat. The clanking sound a ball makes when it hits the catwalks at Tropicana Field.

Yes, folks, the Tampa Bay Rays begin their 20th season today at the Trop against the New York Yankees.

This also marks the 20th season where we must patiently explain, again, that the center of the Bay area marketplace is in Tampa. People from Hillsborough County have proven they won't drive to St. Petersburg on a regular basis to watch baseball games.

I mention this because Rays owner Stu Sternberg made headlines recently when he said his franchise has already missed out on five preferred locations for a new stadium. We can safely assume that at least a couple of them were in Tampa.

What followed was the fire-and-pestilence chatter that always accompanies news like this. THEY'RE GONNA MOVE!! MONTREAL!!

Most interesting, though, in this never-ending saga was renewed speculation that the Rays' best option could be right next door to Tropicana Field. It's just my opinion, but it's more likely Tim Tebow will be the World Series MVP than the Rays ever agreeing to such a plan.

Building a new stadium next to the old stadium would be throwing good money after bad.

The bigger story is that it may not matter even a trifle where the Rays finally decide they would like to build because someone eventually has to pay for the stadium.

It won't be you, Citizen Taxpayer. I don't see Sternberg telling folks not to worry because he has a spare $500 million or so to cover the cost. So, who gets the bill?

Let's connect the dots.

National Football League owners last week approved the Oakland Raiders' request to move to Las Vegas. The vote was 31-1.

The no vote came from billionaire Stephen Ross of the Miami Dolphins. In an ESPN story, he said, "… if you own a team, you should have the deep pockets to deliver. You need some public money for infrastructure and things like that. But with the costs of stadiums today, our country can't afford to put all of the money in those things."

Ross didn't arrive at this position out of the goodness of his gold-plated heart. You may remember, he got his nose bloodied by the Florida Legislature a few years ago in a fight for public dollars to renovate Sun Life Stadium.

He resorted to the usual threats sports owners make, but then decided to pay the $350 million renovation cost himself. It's lovely, too. He also suggested that if he couldn't get public money to renovate his team's playpen, no other sports owners in the state should get money either.

No problem.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has turned "no corporate welfare" into a battle cry. His stance has wide support in the Legislature.

The timing couldn't be worse for the Rays. Even those oft-repeated suggestions about using tourist tax money and maybe creating a special taxing district won't generate enough cash to get this done.

Then what?

Opponents wouldn't have to look hard to find a team owner willing to spend his own cash. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has put about $60 million from his own bank account into upgrades at Amalie Arena.

The Rays also are members of a cartel that generated more than $10 billion (with a B) in 2016. Forbes magazine reported that it was the 14th consecutive year of record revenue for the league. Much of that good fortune was built on the backs of taxpayers.

This would be a good time for Major League Baseball to say, "Hey! A healthy Rays' franchise helps us all. How much do you need?"

Well, it is Opening Day. Hope springs eternal.

Just kidding.

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