1. Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Rays stadium dream masks the sticker shock

Times Columnist Dan Ruth. [Times file]
Times Columnist Dan Ruth. [Times file]
Published Jul. 13, 2018

Close your eyes and dream. It is October 2023 or so and the Tampa Bay Rays are up 3-0 in the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. The game is being played in the Rays new stadium, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Credit Suisse, George Soros, Vinny's Pawn Shop Stadium. It's the bottom of the ninth inning. The score is tied 1-1 and Kevin Kiermaier is up to bat.

The slugger belts a long, long home run literally out of the park, blasting through the field's dome — so far in fact the ball winds up rolling all the way to the front door of an Ybor City tattoo parlor. Cubs manager Joe Maddon is sobbing uncontrollably as he sucks down an unpretentious bottle of Pinot Noir and the crowd goes wild.

Shortly thereafter, Rays manager Kevin Cash is canonized as a living saint and every street and bridge and public building is renamed Stu Sternberg Whatever.

Well, it never hurts to let the mind wander a bit, which seemed to be the object of the exercise a few days ago when the Rays brain trust unveiled their vision of what a new ballpark would look like on a splotch of land in Ybor City.

To be sure, the prospective Rays digs looks impressive. Why after all the bells and whistles are put into place, you have to wonder if every patron attending a game will have their own personal manservant to attend to their every whim. "Oh Jeeves? Another pulled pork slaw dog if you will, my good man."

To be sure, the renderings of the new stadium are a thing to behold. Beautiful windows, lavish seating, a lush playing field, scores of amenities. Sweet.

And it better be swell, especially since the Rays bigshots pegged (with a straight face) the cost of King Farouk Coliseum at — you better sit down for this — $892,000,000, to pay for what would be the smallest ballpark in Major League Baseball with a capacity of between 28,216 and 30,842.

During a presentation at the Italian Club in Ybor City, Rays executives did their best to tout the team's value to the community and lavished praise on themselves as blue ribbon corporate citizens. And perhaps they are.

But that hardly resonated with either Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, or Hillsborough County Commissioners Sandra Murman and Les Miller, who were in agreement the Rays cannot expect taxpayers to be on the hook for any sizeable chunk of the $892,000,000 price tag for a wealthy team owner to get his new ballpark.

It is a good thing to have a professional baseball team in our midst. We all wish them well. But the idea of spending $892,000,000 for a shiny new sports venue is obscene, especially when public school teachers are underpaid, when public transportation is barely above the level of rickshaws, when the streets are populated by not only the homeless, but homeless veterans, too.

It appears for the moment at least, Sternberg and his front office will have to pursue investors in the private sector to arrange funding for a $892,000,000 stadium in one of the less profitable baseball markets in the country. But he's a smart guy. He'll figure it out.

Ray's co-president Brian Auld made the argument that a new Sultan of Brunei Stadium would serve as a catalyst to spur the growth of Tampa. Well, what would you expect him to say, although there is zero evidence Helloooo Sucker Stadium out there on Dale Mabry Highway, home to the Tampa Bay Bucs, has been a pile-driving engine of economic impact in Tampa. It has, however, accelerated the growth of the Glazer family's bottom line.

Tampa's growth is already on the move with the development of Jeff's Vinik's remaking of downtown Tampa.

Still, the Rays presentation, with all its fancy drawings and graphics, could be the catalyst for a new attraction in the city — a museum dedicated to the history of architectural renderings of all the stuff that's never happened.

We could call it the Field of Schemes Institute of Higher Chutzpah.