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  1. Opinion

Tampa Bay wants to keep the Rays? Time to get desperate

Signs started popping up around Ybor City in the area where the Tampa Bay Rays announced their plans to build a stadium. (MARC TOPKIN | Times)
Signs started popping up around Ybor City in the area where the Tampa Bay Rays announced their plans to build a stadium. (MARC TOPKIN | Times)
Published Dec. 12, 2018

In the end, there was one thing that killed the Ybor City stadium proposal.

It wasn't just a lack of public financing, although that was a huge part of the equation. And it wasn't just a dearth of corporate commitments, although that figured in to the decision, too.

What this deal was missing, what's always been missing, is this:

Desperation.

Let's face it, lots of cities and teams would like to have a new stadium but hardly anyone wants to pay for one. And so the big shots parry and they dance until one side gets desperate enough to accept a deal.

And we ain't there yet in Tampa Bay.

Related: Rays say current Ybor City stadium project is dead

This deal fell apart because there wasn't enough enthusiasm (read: desperation) among the political establishment in Hillsborough County to suggest that diverting tax dollars toward the construction of a stadium might be a sound investment for Ybor City and downtown Tampa.

Nor was there enough enthusiasm (read: desperation) among Rays ownership to accept a potentially flimsy deal that might have cost them more in construction costs than they would have recouped in increased revenues.

So where does that leave us?

One day closer to desperate.

I'm not trying to be flippant here. The only way money gets stacked high enough to reach the $1 billion level (and the longer this tango continues, the closer it will get to that price) is for some interested party to eventually decide the alternative is worse.

In this case, that might mean St. Petersburg.

The city is getting antsy to redevelop the 85 acres where Tropicana Field currently sits. That's one of the reasons the City Council was amenable to giving the Rays three years to negotiate with Hillsborough.

The sooner the Rays decide where they want to play, the sooner St. Pete can get to work on the Trop site. The worst-case scenario for St. Pete, and for the market's baseball fans, is for the city to sit on its hands until the lease runs out in 2027.

That would mean the Rays are free to move anywhere in the nation, and it means St. Pete will have wasted a decade's worth of redevelopment chances on the edge of a growing downtown.

In that sense, Tuesday's announcement may have been disappointing to the Rays but it wasn't the worst news in the world. The longer this game plays out, the stronger the team's leverage grows.

No stadium in Ybor? Fine, the Rays can always talk to St. Pete.

No stadium in St. Pete? Fine, they can eventually listen to Montreal, Portland, San Antonio or some other city that is more eager (read: desperate) to pay for the bulk of a stadium that opens in 2028.

That day is still a long way off. And maybe it never comes.

Here are the calculations that must be made:

Are the Rays worth enough to St. Pete, and is the urgency to develop the Trop land high enough, that the city gives the team a sweetheart deal to begin building a new stadium in the next few years?

Is Tampa so tired of seeing a Major League Baseball team from a distance that business executives and a new mayor finally come to the plate with a deal that has a little more substance and a little less projection.

And is Rays ownership really as committed to Tampa Bay as they say, or will they decide there is more money to be made by selling the franchise to the highest out-of-town bidder?

Those are your three scenarios.

Eventually, someone will blink.

Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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