Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How to Waste Someone Else's Money Over, and Over, and ...

The Tampa Bay area has been a popular place for Spring Training by Major League Baseball for many, many years. The St. Louis Cardinals played at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg and the New York Yankees now make Tampa their spring home, the Toronto Blue Jays perch in Dunedin, the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater. Minor League teams play in the area as well, usually in the same Spring Training homes of their parent clubs. Baseball is quite popular here in the Tampa Bay area, as it is in all of Florida. But the local area Major League team - the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (oops! No longer Devil!) - is not so popular.

Why? Because so many residents of the area came here from somewhere else. You need only look at attendance at Tampa Bay Buccaneer football games to see a similar fact there. When the Chicago Bears would play here against the Buccaneers the majority of the fans at the stadium would be decked out in the colors and numbers of 'Da Bears'. With the recent success of the Buccaneers on the field (Super Bowl Champs in January, 2003!) this has changed a bit. But for nearly 30 years the home team has been far less popular than the visiting teams. So it is with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now just newly renamed the Tampa Bay Rays! Wow! New uniforms! Wheee!) who now, after a few years of so-so on-the-field results, think that a brand new stadium is the answer to their attendance/popularity problems.

Bird's view of Tropicana Field

From Field of Schemes:
November 18, 2007

Rays: New stadium will bring cash windfall, rain of puppies

The Tampa Bay Rays owners don't even have a stadium funding plan yet, but they're already insisting that the deal, whatever it is, would be great for the city, issuing a 600-page report saying it would create 2500 jobs, $1 billion in new investment, and more than $20 million a year in new property and sales taxes.

I like that headline. A lot! When Tropicana Field was first envisioned (It would originally be named the Suncoast Dome - as this is the Pinellas Suncoast! - then renamed the Thunderdome - as the Tampa Bay Lightning Hockey Team made it their home - and then the naming rights would be sold to Tropicana) proponents made all sorts of grandiloquent promises about the minor costs - to themselves apparently - the amazing influx of jobs and revenues, and the best promise of all: we'd get a Major League Baseball Team! Oh, boy!

Of course the powers-that-be in MLB told the group that proposed to build this empty stadium, "Don't bother." They weren't prepared to open the bidding for an expansion team. Of course when multi-billionaire, and creepy guy, Wayne Huizenga put in a bid for an expansion club in Miami ("We don't need a domed stadium, gentlemen; we never have inclement weather here in Miami!"), the MLB ninnies sent him the Marlins.

But back in St. Petersburg the push was on to lure an unsatisfied team to the friendly environs of West Central Florida and a soon-to-be-built modern baseball stadium! The MLB teams used that offer to get their home cities to pony up the tax money to build their own new stadiums or refurbish their existing stadiums. What fun we had, here in the Tampa Bay area, listening to the rumors of the White Sox coming, the Mariners coming, and so on, ad nauseum.

Meanwhile the naysayers were being silenced by the great paradigm of Free Speech and Fiscal Responsibility - I speak of the St. Petersburg Times, of course - who demanded this brand new stadium to bring us all a Baseball Team! Oh, Boy! When the attempts were made to put the huge expected taxpayer cost to a vote, guess who came out against such taxpayer involvement? The St. Pete Times. After all they knew far better than we what to do with our tax monies. And so the great building project began.

First thing they had to do, of course, was to buy the land, condemn it - Eminent Domain, twisted out of shape again! - move the poor people out and into different neighborhoods, clean up the site - amazing! There was contaminated dirt there (Costs Triple for Cleanup at the Dome)! Used to be a Gas Plant on the site many years ago, thus the name of the neighborhood: Gas Plant. Oops! We didn't look into that, did we? - and begin the actual building. Ahhh, what fun! What glories to come. What costs, actually! And the taxpayers got to foot the bill (Still do, actually. This isn't paid for yet. The city owes more than $100-million in outstanding bond payments on the stadium.) while the Team Owners to come would get a brand-spanking new stadium.

From Around the Dome - Echoes of the past.:
By 1986, this much was accomplished:
285 buildings had been demolished.
522 households had been relocated.
More than 30 businesses had moved or closed.
Total cost: $11.3-million, about $2-million more than originally budgeted. The money came from federal community redevelopment grants, which were supposed to help lift people out of poverty.

And in July of that year, the St. Petersburg City Council voted 6-3 to build a new baseball stadium. Construction began in November.

You might recall there was nothing about baseball in the original plan. That plan had promised to rebuild the neighborhood with new, affordable housing and a modern-day industrial park. The plan also promised in writing 600 new jobs, with combined salaries of $5.6-million, by the end of the 1980s.

You see originally Baseball wasn't even a part of the equation. This was to be a redevelopment of the Gas Plant area. But as usual when taxpayer money is in play, cooler heads prevailed. "We have all this money to play with; let's do something big with it!"

Again, from Around the Dome:
Meanwhile, a group of powerful Pinellas County business people had been trying since 1976 to figure out how to lure a Major League Baseball team to the area. Their strategy: build a stadium in hopes that baseball would come.

Most attention focused on several sites on the north end of St. Petersburg, convenient to Clearwater and the main bridge to Tampa.

But many of the baseball boosters had strong ties to downtown, including the publisher of the St. Petersburg Times, John B. Lake. They and then-City Manager Alan Harvey began lobbying City Council members to bring the stadium downtown.

The cost of the stadium to the taxpayers? About $138-million, up from $85-million budget. Sound familiar, Taxpayers?

Once an expansion team was awarded to an Owner's group, they decided that this brand new stadium was insufficient for their purposes and demanded renovations and upgrades. And, no, they were not going to pay for it. St. Petersburg and its Sports Authority would have to foot the bill. The renovation now added some $70 million to the tax burden. All of this money come out of the pockets of the taxpayers of St. Petersburg and all Floridians. The owners pay nothing for the home these people have given them.

A short overview, with an exciting new twist! We gotta build a new stadium for the Rays! Read on ...

Tampa Bay, for years a popular area for Major League Baseball spring training games, finally got its own team beginning in 1998. It wasn't easy, however. In fact, the city of St. Petersburg went so far as to build a domed stadium, against the advice of MLB, to lure a major league team. It looked like the White Sox would occupy the new stadium until the people of Chicago voted to build them a new ballpark in 1989. A group of Tampa Bay investors called a press conference in 1992 announcing that the Giants were moving to Tampa Bay, but loopholes in the agreement allowed a local consortium to rescue the team from leaving San Francisco. Several other teams expressed interest in relocating to St. Petersburg, but to no avail. At last, on March 9,1995, MLB granted Tampa Bay a franchise.
Completed in 1990 as the Florida Suncoast Dome, it became the Thunderdome while the Tampa Bay Lightning NHL team were tenants. It was renamed Tropicana Field on October 4, 1996 per an agreement with Tropicana Dole Beverages.
The Rays have not had much success at Tropicana Field, either on the field or at the box office. MLB has made it known to the team that they must be out of their current facility by 2010. [Gee, thanks, MLB! We've still got too much money.]

The slanted roof!

Tropicana Field’s main claim to fame is its slanted fabric roof - Hurricane resistant, so they say - and the interior roof catwalks which have been a source of much anger by players smacking towering hits toward the ceiling. The balls clang on the metal walk ways, bounce around, and sometimes fall to be caught. What fun! Other than that, there is nothing truly noteworthy about the stadium. Save its obscene cost to the taxpayers.

Lotta metal up there!

And so the promises begin again, the inflated claims of revenues and jobs, the minimized analyses of costs, the support of the Leftist St. Pete Times for this marvelous waste of Taxpayer's money. The site for this new stadium for these new Rays (new uniforms! No more Devil in the name! Wow!) is to be Historic Al Lang Field, which sits on he waterfront, and has been a home to Spring Training, Minor League games, and local events. The stadium is named for a famous Pittsburgh native-turned-local, and one-time Mayor of St. Petersburg, who convinced the St. Louis Browns to move to St. Petersburg for Spring Training. The present stadium is in its third or fourth incarnation at the site.

Al Lang Field todayOne sticky area for this terrible choice: the land is owned by the City of St. Petersburg. The voters would have to okay the sale to the Sports Authority in an election. Naturally I expect the apathy of the St. Pete voters to win the day for another waterfront giveaway. But we'll see. The residents of St. Petersburg have not been terribly successful keeping publicly owned waterfront land out of the hands of developers. What an ugly thought that a pretty site will become the latest in the over-built waterfront of coastal Florida. Just take a gander at Clearwater Beach to see what the developers can do a once-beautiful beach area. That’s if you can even find the beach anymore!

View of Al Lang Field from a postcard

Ain’t it about time that the Professional Sports Team’s Owners paid for the places in which their teams play? Don’cha think? If their teams are so good for the local economies, isn’t it time they opened their own bulging wallets and put their money where their mouths are? And can’t they stop trying to buy up prime land for these huge stadiums when perfectly good vacant land sits unused? Hey, here’s a thought: All that downtown land with the big office buildings - you know, where the buildings are 85% empty - why not buy up that land, raze those eyesores to the ground, and build your lovely, revenue and job generating arena there? How ‘bout that? Why not do that? And buy it with your own money. And build the thing with your own money, too. Because if you’re telling the truth about how successful that stadium/arena will be, why make somebody else pay for it?

*shrug* We can keep kissing our tax money goodbye. You know that’s the truth!


shoprat said...

I enjoy and support professional sports, within limits, but stadiums are getting as ridiculous as ticket prices.

Go see the Lansing Lugnuts instead. (The city built the stadium after a voter referendum. Maybe bad afterall but seemed like a good idea at the time.)

benning said...

I've been to maybe 10 ball games since I moved here in '85. I go to see the Philies in spring training. Of course now they have their own gigantic Spring Training Amusement Park on U.S. 19, so Jack Russell Stadium is empty.

Clearwater was threatened with a move so they caved and paid for a new stadium.


Took the fun out of the spring games.

Anonymous said...

IOW, business as usual.

Sort of like a lying Clinton...

benning said...

Camo: Yes, but why can't municipalities figure out that there is no real revenue benefit? The analyses have been done time and time again. Why don't they "get" it?

Sheesh! I hate elected idiots!

WomanHonorThyself said...

who knew there was such drama in professional stadium management!

Brooke said...

Stadiums should be purely private sector; not one red cent of taxpayer money!

The Bengals strong-armed Cincinnati into subsidizing a stadium with taxpayer money with promises that they would become a winning team, blah, blah, blah.

That didn't work out so well, and now the county is stuck paying the bill.

benning said...

And that's the norm these days, Brooke.

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