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The Why's Guy

These arguments for new Rays stadium might backfire

Over their first nine seasons I have, like many fans, often found myself wondering what the heck the Tampa Bay Rays were doing on the field.

The Rays have cleaned up most of those problems. The team seems on the cusp of something special.

But now I'm scratching my head over a couple of moves by proponents of a new ballpark.

I'm not here to weigh in on the merits of the stadium deal. I'll leave that decision up to the voters of St. Petersburg.

Nor am I up in arms about the St. Petersburg City Council's decision to keep the proposal moving toward a November vote.

What has me perplexed?

First, consider the recent comments by Bud Selig. The baseball commissioner threw his support behind the Rays' plan. He told Times staff writer Aaron Sharockman that the Rays couldn't compete with big-market teams without the revenue generated by a new stadium. He also promised an All-Star Game if the stadium is built.

Color me surprised. The commissioner of baseball, the guy hired by the 30 owners, sides with a team looking for a new stadium.

Will that sway the voting masses?

Not only is Selig employed by the owners, he's part of their fraternity, having owned the Milwaukee Brewers for years. I wonder: Has Bud ever opposed a team's push for a new stadium?

Probably not, if he likes his job.

This isn't the first time Selig has brought up the need for a new Rays stadium.

In June 2004, nearly four years to the day before his recent comments, Selig watched what was described as his first game at the Trop. (What took him so long? Couldn't he get tickets?) During that visit he said the team would eventually need a new stadium to generate the kind of revenue required to compete with big-market teams. He also said talk of a new stadium was premature.

I guess it's matured.

While Selig's comments were predictable, the decision by some stadium proponents to use the threat of the Rays leaving St. Petersburg seems risky.

Let's jump ahead in our time machine. It's 2012. The city's voters have long since rejected the stadium plan.

There is another waterfront park at the site of Al Lang Field, and the Rays, the 2011 American League East champions, have decided to leave for Charlotte, N.C. (Wait, no chance of a waterfront stadium there — let's change that to Charleston, S.C.)

The Rays, having better lawyers than the city, escape their lease without a penalty.

So what happens?

Couldn't the city redevelop the Tropicana Field site in the same manner the Rays have proposed? Except in this glimpse into the future, none of the revenue generated from the project would be used for a new stadium.

In a time when people are screaming for relief from high taxes, the city could use the new tax revenue for any number of projects in the downtown area.

As a bonus, the hotel tax that is helping pay the Trop debt (and which is an integral part of the stadium proposal) could be eliminated or used for other projects.

If the team left, it would be a dagger to the heart of Rays fans, but aren't most of them already in favor of the stadium plan? This argument has as much potential for alienating undecided voters as winning them over.

If you want to persuade the undecideds to vote for the stadium deal, point out the benefits:

• Promoting tourism through nice views of the bay on national television.

• It would be good for downtown and its businesses.

• And won't it be fun watching the Rays' young stars beat the Yankees and the Red Sox year in and year out?

Those are your heavy hitters. If you really want to sway the undecideds, leave Selig, and the threat of leaving, on the bench.

Kyle Kreiger rants about the serious and silly with one question in mind: Why? Contact him at kreiger@sptimes.com.

These arguments for new Rays stadium might backfire 06/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2008 4:18pm]
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