New Rays ballpark could create 17,000+ jobs in Pinellas, analysis says

The analysis, commissioned by Pinellas County, looked at potential economic and social impacts.
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, on left, and Pinellas County Commissioner Rene Flowers greet the audience during a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club meeting at Tropicana Field on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, in St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, on left, and Pinellas County Commissioner Rene Flowers greet the audience during a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club meeting at Tropicana Field on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published June 29

A new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays on the existing Tropicana Field site in St. Petersburg could generate up to 17,782 sustainable, annual jobs in Pinellas County over 30 years, according to a county-commissioned analysis.

The study, by Utah-based firm Victus Advisors, was submitted on Feb. 6 but has not previously been publicized. It gives projections on how much money the stadium construction would pump into the local economy — as much as $250 million in Pinellas on a project expected to cost more than $1 billion in total — as well as job, wage and tax revenue figures for the stadium’s first decades in use.

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton commissioned the report last fall. He said he wanted more details on how building a new ballpark could affect the economy as the county entered negotiations with the Rays, and he felt the report needed to come from an outside firm with no stake in the long-gestating stadium saga.

”We wanted an independent analysis, and that’s exactly what I told them,” he said. “‘I don’t want you to make it look like anything. I want your professional opinion. … I don’t want to make it look rosy.’”

The county split the $45,000 cost of the study with the city of St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg spokesperson Alizza Punzalan-Randle said the city helped coordinate community input and provided information to Victus Advisors, including the city’s sustainability plan, the Tropicana Field conceptual master plan and proposals from the 2020 effort to redevelop Tropicana Field.

“The potential economic impacts of the Historic Gas Plant District are significant and transformative,” she wrote in an email. “Economic analysis and all relevant information, including data contained in the Victus Advisors study, is considered and has helped to inform the City’s negotiations and our continued work with Rays-Hines.”

The report projected that building a stadium would create 4,500 construction jobs, and that redeveloping the area around the ballpark could generate another 22,000, with nearly $2 billion in combined wages. In the long term, it estimated that the stadium and development would boost the county’s economy to the tune of more than 17,000 sustainable jobs, in industries including sports, entertainment and hospitality.

County commissioners know the report exists, but Burton said he hasn’t talked them through the findings. He plans for it to be part of the background information they receive when there’s a proposal for them to discuss. Those talks, between Burton, St. Petersburg officials and the Hines/Rays team, are still ongoing.

St. Petersburg City Council member Richie Floyd said the report’s estimate of $185 million in total incremental county tax collections over a 30-year period made him “hesitant” when half of the billion-dollar ballpark could be subsidized with public dollars. He also said job estimates like these are difficult to trust.

“It wasn’t as much tax revenue generated as I would’ve hoped for,” he said. “We’re talking about significant subsidy right now.”

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Victus Advisors signed a nondisclosure agreement with the Rays to obtain their “confidential preliminary plans and projections for a proposed ballpark development” on the current Trop site, according to the report. The group’s analysis was released days after St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch selected the Hines/Rays team to redevelop the Historic Gas Plant District.

Though the group used information from the Rays to conduct the analysis, it said it could not share the majority of the information in its report.

The study includes anonymous comments from government officials and community and business leaders about the Rays’ reputation in St. Petersburg and the possible social effects of building a new stadium. According to that part of the report, those interviewed said the team “keeps St. Petersburg on the map” and has enjoyed stronger local support in recent years.

Several of those interviewed also mentioned the dynamics of redeveloping the Historic Gas Plant District, the historically Black community razed for the current stadium. Community leaders said the team seems disconnected from the predominantly Black, low-income neighborhoods south of the stadium. One business leader interviewed for the report described the stadium as a “border” between that part of the city and the more affluent, whiter areas to the north.