ST. PETERSBURG — Right next to the Interstate 275 exit for The Pier, between flashes of ads for light beer, is a message on a billboard from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Every minute or so, “Dear Rays, Montreal won’t pay for your new stadium. Sincerely, Taxpayers” lights up just west of Tropicana Field.
It’s a stark message for the Rays, who have been exploring splitting future seasons between Tampa Bay and Montreal, a move they say would make the organization more financially viable in Tampa Bay long-term. The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field is up in 2027, and the topic has dominated the St. Petersburg mayoral race, which ends Nov. 2. Tampa has been working on finding a site for the Rays in Ybor City.
Renaud Brossard, Quebec Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, flew down for less than 48 hours to host a news conference Monday morning underneath the billboard outside Lot 2 at Tropicana Field. He said he had hoped the Rays would be in the World Series so he could go to a game.
Brossard said his organization, which he characterized as not-for-profit and nonpartisan, wanted to send a clear message to the Rays: that Quebec taxpayers are against any kind of subsidies to build a stadium in Montreal for a part-time, or even full-time, Rays team. He cited a March poll, where 60 percent of 1,000 Quebecers surveyed did not want public money to go toward the construction of a baseball stadium in Montreal, a project led by billionaire Stephen Bronfman.
Bronfman’s group, the Montreal Baseball Group, has registered as a lobbyist with the government of Quebec to get a subsidy for the construction of a new stadium in downtown Montreal. Broussard said they want a new stadium, as they are not interested in using the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.
A spokesperson for the Montreal Baseball Group declined to comment.
“If the Rays want to come and play in Montreal, they’re more than welcome to do it,” Brossard said. “We’ll give them a warm Canadian welcome. But we’re not going to let them use our wallets as an open bar.”
Brossard said his organization has not reached out to the Rays. Rays president Brian Auld declined to comment.
Brossard said it’s not clear how much public money Bronfman’s group is seeking or what the burden would be on taxpayers. Transparency, he said, is another problem clouding the project.
“It’s all being negotiated behind closed doors, and that’s one of our issues,” he said.
Brossard said taxpayers in Quebec are on average about $50,000 in debt per capita, and the City of Montreal faces a $100 million budget shortfall. He said even if funds were available, that money should be spent on infrastructure, the ailing healthcare system or reducing what he says is the highest tax burden in North America.
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Brossard said the organization has been working on the ad for about a month and spent $1,300 on the digital ad for one week. He said they are leading a similar public advocacy campaign in Montreal.
In a statement, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said, “The days of taxpayers footing the bill for sports stadiums are over, but we are keeping an open mind as we await more information from the Rays and we definitely want to keep the team in the region.”
A spokesman for St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman said he had no comment with respect to the billboard. He said he intends to make a decision on a Tropicana Field development plan soon, and “he appreciates everyone’s patience. It’s an important decision.”
Times staff writer Charlie Frago contributed to this report.