Advertisement
  1. Clearwater

How much are the Phillies worth to Clearwater? The city's answer just changed.

The Phillies and Clearwater are looking for $40 million from Pinellas County for renovations to Spectrum Field and the Carpenter Complex. [ MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Jun. 4

CLEARWATER — The Philadelphia Phillies bring somewhere around $70 million to Clearwater every year during spring training, the city told Pinellas County in June of 2018.

Then last month, Clearwater quoted the county a much different number. In 2019, the Phillies contributed about $44 million in economic impact during spring training, a city-commissioned study showed.

What explains the 37 percent disparity between the two numbers?

"Quite frankly, we didn't expect there to be that much of a swing," said Clearwater Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar.

Economic impact studies are often a key part of a government's effort to get public funding for a stadium. They provide numbers a city or county can point to as evidence taxpayers are making a good investment.

In this case, the government in question is Clearwater. The public dollars: $40 million from Pinellas County in bed tax money. And the stadium is the city-owned Spectrum Field. The field, built 15 years ago for $34 million, and an adjacent training complex need $79.7 million in upgrades, the Phillies and the city say.

But experts who analyze the public funding of sports stadiums say economic impact studies are easily manipulated, and the benefits of a publicly funded stadium are easily overstated.

Take the big difference in the two studies. Some of the reasons for the disparity are actually pretty simple. In the analysis with the larger number submitted last year, the city used data from a 2009 study by the Florida Sports Foundation and Bonn Marketing Group to measure the economic impact of Phillies spring training from 2013 to 2018. The city included spending by both tourists and locals in its analysis.

Victor Matheson, a professor of economics at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, said no economic impact study should include locals.

"That local resident is spending money at the baseball stadium rather than at the local bar and restaurant, rather than at the local movie theater," Matheson said. "That's not money that is new to the city, that's money that's just shifting around."

Read more: No funding yet for Phillies stadium renovation but Clearwater is already spending

The study submitted by the city last week is more conservative. It does not include locals in its analysis, and it bases its economic impact projections on unique attendees of games as opposed to individual attendees. (For example, if Jane were to attend two games, she'd be counted as one unique attendee, not two total attendees.) The city paid Downs & St. Germain Research $15,000 to conduct the study.

John Timberlake, the director of Florida operations for the Phillies, said the $44 million figure was not indicative of the Phillies' true value to the city during spring training. For instance, Timberlake pointed out, the spending of Phillies players who have a second home in Clearwater is not counted.

"I've never seen any numbers that came out in this neighborhood," Timberlake said of the study.

But even the less generous economic impact figure reported by Downs and St. Germain seemed an overestimation to Smith College Economics Chair Andrew Zimbalist.

An essential part of an economic impact study is something called a multiplier, which calculates the real effect of one dollar spent at an event. For instance, a dollar spent on a hot dog could theoretically be re-spent by the hotdog vendor at a local bar, turning one dollar spent by a tourist into two dollars in economic impact.

Zimbalist said Downs and St. Germain's $44 million estimate is artificially inflated by a multiplier that is too optimistic.

Joseph St. Germain, the president of Downs and St. Germain, defended his firm's report. He noted that the economic impact study was based on data gathered via surveys taken during the Phillies 2019 spring training. They then ran that spending data through a multiplier model called "IMPLAN" which is used by over 1,500 organizations, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Reserve, St. Germain said.

"I have seen other studies and other professionals do it in a way to create the highest number that they can," St. Germain said. "In our estimation, it's more important for us to be accurate as opposed to putting up a big number."

In 2018, Clearwater signed a deal with the Phillies that would leave state ($13.7 million), city ($16 million) and county ($40 million) taxpayers on the hook for all but about $10 million of the project. The Phillies would also pay for any potential cost overruns — which Timberlake said could be significant.

Clearwater first applied for the money in the summer of 2018. It withdrew that application when the county changed its guidelines for stadium funding proposals in the fall, Dunbar said.

Now, the city is in the process of submitting a second application. In January, the County Commission voted to let Clearwater start negotiating with the Tourist Development Council, which controls the bed tax money — a six percent tax on hotel and motel stays intended for capital or marketing projects. (The Downs and St. Germain economic impact study showed that Phillies tourists pay about $408,000 in bed taxes annually.)

Read more: Pinellas County lets Clearwater pursue a $40 million request for Phillies stadium overhaul. Reluctantly.

After those negotiations, the Tourist Development Council will make a recommendation to the commission, which will vote on the plan.

Just last year, the county gave Dunedin $41.7 million in bed tax money to help fund the renovation of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, the spring training home of the Toronto Blue Jays, as well as the Englebert Complex, a team training facility.

But at a January meeting, several county commissioners seemed hesitant to give so much money to the Clearwater facilities, which are far newer than Dunedin's.

Matheson, the professor, said taxpayer-funded stadiums rarely make economic sense.

"The stadiums teams want are terrible economic engines," Matheson said.

Clearwater officials disagree.

Mayor George Cretekos said the Phillies, which have trained in Clearwater since 1947, give a year-round economic boost that can't necessarily be captured in a report about one year of spring training.

Dunbar, for his part, described a typical day on at Clearwater beach during spring training. Take a trip down the Memorial Causeway in March and you're greeted with wall-to-wall red team gear, he said.

"I'm an eye test kind of guy, Dunbar said. "The Philadelphia sports fan is coming here in droves."

Contact Kirby Wilson at kwilson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8793. Follow @kirbywtweets.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Michael Robert-Jose Harbaugh has pleaded guilty in the 2017 slaying of Safety Harbor neighbor David Sommer, a former reporter. Harbaugh also pleaded guilty to a charge he tried to have a witness in the case killed. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
    Michael Harbaugh, 42, also pleaded guilty to trying to have a fellow inmate kill a witness in the murder case.
  2. A team of a dozen victims' rights attorneys on Wednesday filed the third lawsuit in three months against the Church of Scientology and its leader David Miscavige. The complaint states a woman was repeatedly sexually abused as a child in Scientology's care and that church policy enabled the abuse. PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU  |  AFP/Getty Images
    The third lawsuit filed against Scientology and leader David Miscavige in three months accuses the church of sexual battery, racketeering and conspiracy
  3. Falo Kane, 32, of Clearwater, now faces four counts of sexual battery of a physically helpless person and a violation of probation charge, according to police. [CLEARWATER POLICE DEPARTMENT]  |  Clearwater Police Department
    Falo Kane now faces a total of seven counts of sexual battery of a physically helpless person.
  4. Tampa has a pilot program underway to test scooters. Clearwater could soon have one of its own. But if it's limited to downtown, who will use it? CHRIS URSO  |   Times
    The city’s plan is coming into focus, but there will be limitations.
  5. John Jonchuck returned to a Pinellas County courtroom last month to attend a hearing about whether he was entitled to a new trial. A judge on Tuesday ruled that he is not. SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    Jonchuck was convicted of first-degree murder in April. He dropped his 5-year-old daughter, Phoebe Jonchuck, off a bridge in 2015.
  6. Falo Kane, 32, of Clearwater, faces four counts of sexual battery of a physically helpless person and a violation of probation charge, according to police. [CLEARWATER POLICE DEPARTMENT]  |  Clearwater Police Department
    There were four victims, police said. One was in a wheelchair and another was a disabled stroke patient. The accused wrote a letter of apology.
  7. A study found that two of the worst intersections in the country for running red lights are in the Tampa Bay area. Tampa Bay Times
    Two intersections are among the worst for running red lights
  8. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, a Republican, has asked for a City Council vote on a resolution asking congress for gun control measures. DOUGLAS CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the Republican’s symbolic resolution will almost certainly fail.
  9. Sep. 16• Pinellas
    Ele Fox, Kiwanis Club of Dunedin member, and Joe Mackin, president of the Dunedin Cares Food Pantry are pictured in front of the case of meals they received to be distributed to families in need in the Dunedin area. Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Bessette. Stephanie Bessette
    Local Kiwanis clubs supply food in service project
  10. Sep. 16• Pinellas
    Cleo. Photo courtesy of Friends of Stray Animal Shelter. BY MONIQUE WELCH  |  Friends of Stray Animal Shelter
    Meet Cleo.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement