$700 million for a Rays stadium in Tampa? Ah, no thanks | Column
Columnist Daniel Ruth has a few issues with the proposed Major League Baseball stadium
The city skyline, left, and a Kforce building, right, seen in the distance, at a possible site for a Tampa stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The city skyline, left, and a Kforce building, right, seen in the distance, at a possible site for a Tampa stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Dec. 12, 2021|Updated Dec. 16, 2021

What might we call this latest jockstrap scam? Deja Boo All Over Again?

You have to hand it to Tampa Bay Rays President Brian Auld, who can throw a spitter of a high and tight load of steaming hooey right under the chins of the citizens of our fair city without an ounce of obvious shame.

Daniel Ruth
Daniel Ruth [ Tampa Bay Times ]

For those of you who were around these parts in the mid-1990s, you are perfectly correct in having the sneaking feeling that you have heard this grift — which we’ll get to in just a moment — at least once before.

Auld was speaking recently to an audience assembled at the Cuban Club in Ybor City to make a pitch to relocate the Rays to Tampa once the team’s lease expires at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

As part of the shell game to move the Rays, the team has played footsie with the idea of splitting its home games between Tampa and Montreal.

Now there’s a brilliant idea. Baseball has never been particularly embraced in Montreal. The last baseball team to play in hockey-crazed Montreal were the Expos, who from 1969 to 2004 left behind a legacy of entertaining just scores of fans.

That means, if the powers that be in Tampa and Montreal are dense enough to go along with Auld’s Three Card Monte shell game, the Rays will play roughly 40 home games over the course of the season above and below the border.

But wait! It gets even more bonkers. Putting aside for the moment the challenges of maintaining two sets of offices, requiring players and personnel to have two residences, not to mention U.S.-Canadian tax implications, a new stadium situated in Ybor City would cost an estimated (ahem) $700 million.

But tut-tut dear reader. Do not be alarmed. After all, Auld promised — cross his heart and hope to die — that the ever-generous Rays would be thrilled to pony up half of the $700 million to build a 27,000-seat stadium for 40 baseball games a year. Oh, and parking will be more chaotic than the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. But that’s another story.

And yes, if you were here in the mid-1990s, go ahead and feel free to crawl into a fetal position and start sucking down a fifth of vodka through a straw.

Hop into the wayback machine. Let’s get taken for a ride. Again.

In 1995 Malcolm Glazer and his urchins purchased the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and immediately started whining about needing a new stadium.

Glazer, too, promised to pay for half of the estimated $168 million cost if the residents of Hillsborough County voted to approve something called the Community Investment Tax, which dedicated part of the funds collected for a new stadium.

Obviously, it passed on the theory that without a professional football team in the community, Dale Mabry Highway would soon become a barren dystopian wasteland with tumbleweeds blowing in the wind. Piffle.

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And what happened to Glazer’s Dutch treat promise? We’re all still waiting on the check. Indeed, the agreement between the county and the Glazers turned out to be one of the greatest sweetheart deals in all of sports with the Bucs receiving the lion’s share of all non-football revenues generated by Helloooooo Sucker Stadium.

Well, it is never a good idea to waste an opportunity to exploit a bunch of willing chumps. Glazer and his tots got away with stiffing the public. Why not the Rays, too?

At the Ybor City event, Auld argued one should not look at spending $700 million to jam a baseball stadium with limited parking for 40 games as half a loaf. Rather, he argued this was a golden opportunity to keep a Major League Baseball team in the region. Think of the glory of it all. Think of the prestige. Think of the honor.

Or you could think of blowing $700 million to cram 10 pounds of balderdash into a five-pound bag.

What’s the price on community self-respect? What’s the price of being taken to the cleaners by a wealthy team owner, who wants you to pay for his play pen?

Tampa has come a long way in recent years to realizing its long ago claim of being America’s Next Great City. It would be nice to think part of that maturity is the realization — “Fool me once …”

Correction: An earlier version of this column said that Community Investment Tax dollars were used to help pay for the Bucs’ new practice facilities, too. The CIT deal included up to $12 million for practice facilities, but the Bucs’ eventually paid for the entire practice facility itself.