Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Sternberg: Tampa Bay Rays' share of new ballpark could be $150 million

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Wednesday that the team is "genuinely excited" about the proposed Ybor City site for a new stadium and more than "cautiously optimistic" the project can be completed.

But he also provided a glimpse of the bigger challenge of paying for it, suggesting that based on initial projections the team might only cover $150 million of the projected $800 million cost.

In speaking specifically for the first time about the site pitched last month by Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, Sternberg told the Tampa Bay Times:

• The Rays had input and feel the site "looked clearly" to be the best of the workable Hillsborough options.

• Their contribution to the project will be based on projections of how much their revenues would increase, and could end up being higher or lower than the $150 million.

• They need to see support from the community in terms of commitments for season tickets and sponsorships, hoping to increase both by at least 50 percent.

• The stadium needs to have a roof of some kind, whether retractable, fixed or something else being determined by the overall budget.

• While working on the Hillsborough site they "haven’t dismissed by any means" staying in St. Petersburg at a new stadium on the Tropicana Field site, but acknowledged that would be a tougher sell to Major League Baseball.

Sternberg talked about the project for more than 30 minutes before the start of the quarterly owners meetings, and his comments about the financing aspects are certain to attract the most attention.

He said several times the amount of their contribution to the public-private partnership would be based on detailed projections on increased sales of season tickets and sponsorships that were still in the works, and could be influenced by "a drive" or other public effort — such as "businesses knocking on the door" to take part — illustrating additional support, and thus proving that moving from St. Petersburg would be the catalyst.

But he also said they had enough preliminary information to use the $150 million — the same amount they were talking about committing to a failed 2008 proposal on the St. Petersburg waterfront — as a working number.

"We’ve tried to make some guestimates, some estimates on what would be prudent for us, what would give us the ability to take this step in committing to a physical place for another generation or two, and our thought process is it’s probably in the $150 million range," Sternberg said. "We might find out that’s too much. We might find out that we can afford more."

At just $150 million, that would leave Hagan and area government and business leaders to come up with the rest, at least $650 million. With no appetite for a tax increase to pay for a stadium? Like the sales tax referendum that built Raymond James Stadium? It will take a creative cocktail of financing mechanisms.

Options include taxes collected from hotels, rental cars, and food and drinks sold near the stadium on game days, plus leveraging the expected growth in property taxes as a result of development around the ballpark.

At Wednesday’s Hillsborough County Commission meeting, Hagan acknowledged negotiations over who will pay for the new digs could take a year and won’t be easy.

"I don’t know if we’ll ever get there," Hagan said.

As proof, three commissioners made sure to announce at the meeting they opposed taxpayer money for a ballpark.

"It’s going to take a lot of oars in the boat to pull this forward, but I know we’re committed. We’ve been waiting long enough certainly," Sternberg said. "Nobody wants this done sooner or better than we do, than I do. And we’re committed to seeing it through."

Hagan also took flak from other commissioners over the secretive nature of the deliberations to date, suggesting he should take a step back or at least share his role as Hillsborough’s lead Rays negotiator with senior county staff.

"I think this arrangement does create some problems for the other six commissioners here," Commissioner Pat Kemp said.

To Hagan, the comments amounted to a personal affront to him or a backdoor attempt to derail any progress. For the first time, it showed there might be cracks in a previously united effort to lure the Rays from St. Petersburg.

"That’s a hell of a signal that you’re suggesting," Hagan said.

For years Sternberg has said the Rays needed to find a "pitch perfect" site for a new stadium, a nod to the majors-worst attendance at their current site that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and others attribute to the location in downtown St. Petersburg, far from the population center of the area.

After acknowledging this spring that several preferred Hillsborough sites were deemed unavailable, Sternberg said the current site "seems to" meet their goal of being better located and part of a destination area, though it ultimately may depend on what gets built around it by developers.

Hagan said the Rays made "very clear that it met all their criteria," and called the location the "Rays’ site." He also said he expected the Rays to "very soon" announce they want to move the team to Ybor.

But Sternberg said they plan to continue to explore re-elected St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s plan to build a new stadium at the site of Tropicana Field.

That would seem like a basic negotiating ploy to get a better deal in Hillsborough, though Sternberg insisted they are "going to go to great pains not to play them off each other," that they see it more as "put your best foot forward."

He acknowledged that "all data points say no" about staying in downtown St. Petersburg and they would need to see even more promising projections, but the potential for lower costs and a quicker timetable could make it more appealing.

Sternberg said he remains committed to the Tampa Bay area, but the key to making any new site work for them, and as importantly, to get MLB officials and owners to agree, will be the potential of increased revenue, though it won’t all be committed to the stadium as some would be used to boost the team payroll.

"I would say our contribution could be largely based on the support that gets drummed up by specific municipalities or groups and us as well," he said. "And if this falls on a lot of deaf ears then I have my answer."

Times staff writer Steve Contorno contributed to this report.

Comments

Tampa Bay Rays make a small deal, acquire INF Joey Wendle

While continuing discussions on bigger topics, the Rays made a small deal Monday, acquiring INF Joey Wendle from the A's for a player to be named later or cash.Wendle, 27, spent part of the last two seasons in the majors, hitting .266 over 36 games. ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 1

Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 1

UPDATE, 6:14: The Rays continued talks with no major moves seemingly close, but did make a small deal, acquiring INF Joey Wendle from the A's. Wendle, 27, has spent parts of the last two seasons in the majors, hitting .266 in 36 games. He is a lefty ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Winter meetings journal: Rays closer Alex Colome drawing interest

Winter meetings journal: Rays closer Alex Colome drawing interest

LAKE BUENA VISTA — The Rays made a small deal Monday in acquiring INF Joey Wendle from Oakland while continuing to discuss bigger ones that seem likely to eventually lead to the trade of closer Alex Colome and then others.The Rockies and Mets joined ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Yankees’ acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton may hasten Rays’ dismantling

Yankees’ acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton may hasten Rays’ dismantling

LAKE BUENA VISTA — The latest obstacle keeping the Rays from contending in the American League East loomed even larger Monday afternoon in pinstripes.The Yankees’ formal introduction of Giancarlo Stanton also could be an accelerant to the departure o...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Rays manager Kevin Cash on trade speculation, bullpen staffing, Yankees addition of Giancarlo Stanton

Rays manager Kevin Cash on trade speculation, bullpen staffing, Yankees addition of Giancarlo Stanton

Rays manager Kevin Cash was first up in the media room at the winter meetings today and here are a few up the more interesting things he said:* On trade speculation regarding their veterans such as Chris Archer and Evan Longoria: "I know there is a l...
Published: 12/11/17
Tampa Bay Rays cornerstone Evan Longoria “somewhere in limbo” due to trade speculation

Tampa Bay Rays cornerstone Evan Longoria “somewhere in limbo” due to trade speculation

Franchise cornerstone 3B Evan Longoria considers his future with the Rays "somewhere in limbo" based on speculation he could be traded as part of a cost-cutting and rebuilding movement."I don't know what to think, really,'' Longoria told the Tampa Ba...
Published: 12/11/17
Veteran 3B Evan Longoria as uncertain as anyone about Rays’ plans

Veteran 3B Evan Longoria as uncertain as anyone about Rays’ plans

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Uncertain with all the talk about potentially rebuilding if the Rays would go as far as trading franchise cornerstone 3B Evan Longoria?So is he."I don’t know what to think, really,’’ Longoria said via text message Sunday night as t...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated: 12/11/17
AL East life gets even tougher for Rays with Yankees acquiring slugger Giancarlo Stanton from Marlins

AL East life gets even tougher for Rays with Yankees acquiring slugger Giancarlo Stanton from Marlins

The Marlins apparently found a trade to Giancarlo Stanton's liking, reportedly striking a deal early Saturday to send the slugging outfielder to the Yankees.That's bad news for the Rays and the other AL East teams, who will now have to face Stanton &...
Published: 12/09/17
Rays radio broadcaster Andy Freed takes part in event supporting fight against ALS

Rays radio broadcaster Andy Freed takes part in event supporting fight against ALS

Tampa Bay Rays radio broadcaster Andy Freed was up early Saturday to meet up with the Bladerunners team in Clearwater at the ALS Association Florida Chapter's annual Ride, Run, Roll to Defeat ALS, supporting Mike Leist, a former history teacher at St...
Published: 12/09/17
Winter Meetings Preview: Ranking the Rays most likely to be dealt

Winter Meetings Preview: Ranking the Rays most likely to be dealt

Rays officials head to Disney for this week’s winter meetings admitting they don’t know what they’re doing. Wait — that’s not exactly right. It’s more that they don’t know what they’re going to do.Having spent months collecting info and discussing op...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/09/17