Plenty of Tampa Bay locals are big fans of the Rays. They show their support — and help fund the team — every time they buy tickets to watch them play, devour concessions at the games and wear merchandise to represent their team.
Now, Rays ownership is asking them, and the rest of the state, to front a lot of the cost of a new stadium for the team, which they’re wanting to build in Ybor City. This request is raw corporate welfare that benefits themselves at the expense of everyone else.
Asking for public funds is the same old Rays game, but people in Tampa Bay and across the country are wising up and now understand that new sports venues are a poor use of taxpayer dollars. Research shows that any economic impact they do create tends to be negative.
Still, executives and politicians are ignoring the potential negative implications for residents. Instead, they’re finding new, more secretive ways to secure public funding for this pet project. They are working to secure state dollars by labeling those taxpayer dollars as “infrastructure funding.” This isn’t right. Infrastructure funds are meant to develop roads and similar facilities for the benefit of everyone in Tampa Bay — not to pay for a stadium that benefits a few wealthy team owners.
Hillsborough County’s population has expanded dramatically in recent years, and residents could really use new roads and other infrastructure capable of meeting the higher demand. However, the Rays are asking for nearly $30 million to build roads and access points solely for the small area surrounding the proposed new stadium.
The estimated cost of this new stadium approaches $1 billion, and Rays ownership is also pushing for taxpayers to foot a significant portion of that bill. This is simply a bad deal for residents in Tampa Bay and beyond — especially since there are no guarantees the team will even stick with their deal and stay at the new stadium. The team’s very public flirtation with Montreal raises legitimate questions about its long-term commitment to the Tampa Bay region.
While the Rays are currently trying to milk the taxpayers to secure a new stadium in Ybor City, they’re already planning to develop a training facility in Pasco County after that. This means another ask for public funding, pitting Pasco against the Rays’ current training home in Charlotte County.
The bottom line is that there’s no reason the Rays and Major League Baseball cannot, and should not, privately finance any new Tampa stadium. If they want to reap the reward, then they — not taxpayers — should take on the financial risk of investing in the stadium. State and local officials should protect the hard-earned dollars of residents from this misuse of funds.
Skylar Zander is the Florida Director of Americans for Prosperity.