Editorial: The half-billion-dollar cost of not letting the Rays look

St. Petersburg Council member Bill Dudley
St. Petersburg Council member Bill Dudley
Published June 12, 2015

Four St. Petersburg City Council members say they are protecting taxpayers in blocking a regional search by the Tampa Bay Rays for a new baseball stadium. Their hurt feelings and lack of vision could cost Tampa Bay a Major League franchise and the city a half-billion dollars in economic impact from redeveloping Tropicana Field.

The trend lines are clear, and the estimates are conservative. The longer the St. Petersburg City Council refuses to let the Tampa Bay Rays look for new stadium sites in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, the more it costs the city. The lost economic impact for St. Petersburg approaches $500 million, and the lost property tax revenue from redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site if the Rays leave early is at least $54 million. It's time to break the stalemate.

Even if one of four holdouts on the City Council switches their vote now to let the Rays look for another home, the earliest the team could leave Tropicana Field and allow redevelopment to start would be 2020. To force the Rays to stay at the Trop until their lease expires in 2027 would mean the loss of eight years of economic impact and tax revenue from redevelopment — and quite likely the loss of the franchise to Montreal or another suitor.

Some City Council members and candidates who oppose allowing the Rays to look for a new home in both counties cite the Rays' economic impact on St. Petersburg. That number, roughly $60 million a year, is dwarfed by the economic impact of redeveloping the Trop's 85 acres, with or without including a new stadium.

Our estimate of the economic impact created by redevelopment — based primarily on a 2008 PricewaterhouseCoopers study — is conservative. Today's red-hot residential market packs more people into fewer acres, with higher rents and sale prices than were contemplated in a proposed 2008 redevelopment, which focused more on office space and big-box retail. Housing typically creates more spending than other development options. The analysis also does not include the one-time economic boost from construction.

A regional stadium search might well lead the Rays back to St. Petersburg and the Trop site, where a new stadium could be part of a major redevelopment. But it won't be clear if that is the site best suited to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay without looking in both counties. Every year that St. Petersburg stalls costs the city negotiating leverage with the Rays and millions in economic impact the could be generated by redeveloping the Trop site sooner.

It is financially irresponsible for City Council members Bill Dudley, Jim Kennedy, Steve Kornell and Wengay Newton to continue blocking an agreement with the Rays to look for potential stadium sites in both counties. It is foolish to harp on how much the Rays should pay to for the opportunity to look, or to focus solely on the team's economic impact on the city. The big money is in the economic impact of redeveloping 85 acres — and these four obstructionists are turning their backs on at least a half-billion dollars.

These four council members won't play ball

The eight-member St. Petersburg City Council remains deadlocked over letting the Tampa Bay Rays look for new stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

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Bill Dudley, Jim Kennedy, Steve Kornell and Wengay Newton are the four obstructionists blocking the Rays' search and costing the city a half-billion dollars in economic impact tied to redeveloping the Tropicana Field site.