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Daniel Ruth: Like a ball stuck in Trop’s rafters, much is up in the air on new Rays stadium

The ball-snagging ceiling rings at Tropicana Field are one reason the Tampa Bay Rays want to get out of the stadium and move to a new site in Ybor City. [AP photo]
Wednesday 12 September 2018 09.30

From the looks of it, all manner of potentates, captains of industry, major domos and perhaps an odd scion or two are tripping over themselves to pony up gazillions of dollars to assist the Tampa Bay Rays in making their dreams of relocating to Ybor City a reality.

Hey folks, thanks a bunch.

As Ron Christaldi, a lawyer and the leader of the Rays 2020, told Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times recently, a growing number of big shots have pledged to buy sponsorship and season ticket packages — perhaps even naming rights — to support the Rays as the team tries to put together a deal to build a new ballpark in Tampa.

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How can that not be a good thing? Community support, especially from folks with really deep pockets, is certainly critical for the Rays to pull a stadium deal off.

Alas, Christaldi would not elaborate on how many people have made financial commitments to the Rays, nor how much money is actually theoretically on the table.

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It pains this space to be a party-pooper, but the problem with all this cheerleading and promises of untold riches plopping onto the Rays table is a cruel and brutal thing called reality.

In the absence of details from Christaldi, can we let our imaginations wander just a tad?

Let’s assume the J. Beresford Tiptons of Tampa have indeed opened their hearts and more importantly their checkbooks to the Rays. And the results have been more than overly generous.

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For the sake of argument, suppose after Christaldi collected all his IOUs from all those spats, the amount reached — oh, let’s have some fun — was around $200 million in financial support.

Now, that’s a lot of money by any estimation. And who wouldn’t be thrilled to have that kind of cash laying around?

However, even if Christaldi raised that much money, since a new Rays ballpark is estimated to cost about $1 billion, even for someone who is horrible at math, that still leaves an $800 million shortfall.

It is true there are all manner of regulatory machinations at work to try to make a Rays stadium a reality. As Frago reported, a new federally designated opportunity zone has been created for the Ybor City site that will offer considerable tax breaks for private investment within the zone. Very nice.

But you still have to figure by the time all the deals are struck, the paperwork for financing a ballpark will look like the Manhattan phone book meets a Donald Trump pre-nuptial agreement. And even then we can probably assume we’ll still be a few hundred million here, a few hundred million there short of the $1 billion.

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While we’re at it, does anyone not doubt by the time the shovels actually start digging dirt that $1 billion figure will also start to grow?

And who is going to pay for all that, unless Christaldi can start selling luxury skyboxes for $30 million a pop? Well, that would be you, gentle reader.

Under the terms the team reached with the city of St. Petersburg to explore other potential sites for a new stadium, the Rays have until Dec. 31 to determine if a move to Ybor City is feasible. Otherwise all bets are off.

So the clock is ticking away. And negotiations between the Rays and Hillsborough County haven’t even begun yet. So much is still up in the air, like a long fly ball trapped in the rafters at Tropicana Field.

County Commissioner Ken Hagan told Frago negotiations, talks and discussions are ongoing. No doubt the commissioner is chatting away with various hotsy-tots about money.

But at some point, the public has a right to weigh in on a stadium deal, since one way or another, it’s Joe Sixpack who is going to be asked to come into the game as a clean-up hitter.


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