Tuesday, August 06, 2013

In Local News: City Probably Throwing Millions at Future Stadium While School, Library and Transit Needs Suffer

For all the railing about Miami Dade closing libraries - please keep up interest in the story folks, keep the pressure on the county commission to save their libraries! - the thing that bugs me most is how screwed the priorities are for our communities.

Rather than taking care of top needs like our schools (how many are outdated and falling apart?), our highways and bridges (how many bridges are falling apart?!), the lack of public rail transit in major Florida cities (we've got some of the largest metros in the nation without a city or metro-wide light rail alternative to road congestion)... our cities offer up millions in sweetheart deals to pro sport franchises owned by billionaires who ought to be smart enough to figure out financing their own stadiums without pilfering the public trust.

Look, I love sports: Go Bucs!  Go Rays!  Go Bolts!  Go Gators and Go Bulls!  But I cringe at the foolishness and the backroom extortion that's going on by these owners who threaten and bully their way to get public financed stadiums and get to pocket most if not all of the proceeds from buildings that end up empty 50 to 80 percent of the year.  And worse, empty during games.

That said, as a Tampa Bay resident I gotta note this:

With St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster saying he's willing to let the Tampa Bay Rays look at potential stadium sites in Hillsborough County, officials here want to move quickly."It is time we broke the stalemate," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said in a statement Tuesday. "I look forward to the opportunity for the Rays to explore all options."Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said he plans to propose creating a task force of elected officials and business leaders to work with the Rays on exploring options......Both Buckhorn and Hagan have said they expect the lion's share of stadium funding to come from the team and private sector.But while ruling out the kind of general sales tax increase that paid for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' stadium in the 1990s, both also have entertained using other forms of public participation for a stadium.For example, City Hall estimates it could contribute about $100 million to a downtown stadium project after 2015 when the bonds on the Tampa Convention Center are paid off.Buckhorn does not see the money as a tax increase since it is already being collected inside the city's downtown community redevelopment area. The revenue is generated as downtown property values rise, and the city must spend it on capital improvements and infrastructure to improve the CRA.Still, the CRA, which the county would have to agree to renew in coming years, is not expected to generate enough revenue to pay for a stadium and infrastructure."There's going to have to be some sort of investment from other sources as well," county Chief Financial Officer Bonnie Wise said.To close that gap, Tampa land-use lawyer Ron Weaver said there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Since 1990, 26 Major League Baseball teams have gotten new stadiums, and the public's share of the cost has averaged 59 percent, according to his research.A "humble" stadium might cost $492 million, while one more in keeping with what's been built elsewhere could cost $608 million, said Weaver, who has studied and been involved in such projects for 20 or more years...
I am personally convinced we're gonna see a sweetheart stadium deal for the Rays... that the public is gonna foot the bill for more than that 59 percent, even in our continued economic doldrums.
On the bright side, I doubt the Rays future stadium will be as ridiculously gaudy as the Marlins' boondoggle.  And I have slightly higher faith in the Rays' owner Sternberg than in the Marlins owner Loria, arguably the worst in baseball history... well maybe other than Comiskey...


Bob Jones' Neighbor said...

I recall the building of the present stadium back in the '80s. On spec, in hopes of getting a minor league team and then proving St Pete worthy of a major league team. Heck, before the turf was laid the first time, I recall attending a five dog show cluster in January on the concrete floor that underlies the turf.

zlionsfan said...

It was also used as leverage by Reinsdorf to get New Comiskey built. "See, look, there's this new park going up in Tampa, and they'd sure love to have a team ... unless you build me a new one."

It's no coincidence that more than a few owners have franchises in multiple leagues, and in several (many? most?) cases, they end up getting new stadiums not too far apart.

I think the last couple of decades has seen professional sports spend a lot of the emotional capital they earned over the previous century. People in their 70s and 80s can remember paying $3 or $4 for decent seats to a game; people in their 50s and 60s can remember prices not much higher.

But those days are long gone, and a generation that's grown up with monster stadiums and prices to match (paired with a sabotaged economy that in many cases is rigged against them) is starting to develop some political muscle.

I would not be too surprised to see the publicly-financed option dry up in the next 20 years or so, once those people are a significant percentage of voters and fans (and politicians). All it will take is 3 or 4 cities to stand firm and say "You've got a better deal? Go and take it, then." The first couple will lose their teams ... but even then, people may not care like they do now. Once a city stands firm and doesn't lose income, and the politicians don't take a political hit, that'll be it.

Of course, I keep expecting the NCAA to collapse under its own weight any year now, and that hasn't happened yet. (But say O'Bannon to someone with an NCAA logo and see how fast they run.)