Thursday, November 15, 2007

Rob Neyer not so opimistic

I normally love Rob Neyer. I'd love to have him for an interview some day, but I don't know how likely that is after his latest entry in his blog. I'll post the entire thing so you all can read it, his blog is Insider only.

"You can't really blame the Tampa Bay Rays for wanting a shiny new ballpark. After all, everybody else has one! Well, almost everybody. The Marlins don't, but they will. And it just wouldn't be fair if the Rays don't, too.

How are they going to pay for theirs? Well, they say they'll kick in "perhaps as much as $150 million" (which could mean $150 million or $0 million, but when you're launching a PR battle you want to get in a big first strike). They'd like the state to kick in tax revenue from concessions and merchandise in the new building (which is tax revenue that would actually flow into the state's coffers if generated in any other building). Also, "a primary source would be proceeds of the sale of the Tropicana Field site to a developer who would build a large retail/residential complex there."

Sounds generous of them, don't you think? Funny thing about that, though: that land the Rays want to sell for development, with the proceeds financing their new ballpark? As Field of Schemes impolitely observes, the Rays don't own that land Tropicana Field, though, is owned by Pinellas County (and leased back to the city in a complicated tax dodge), so normally any money from developing that site would go to the county, not the Rays. Add in that Al Lang Field is owned by the city of St. Petersburg, and the Rays are effectively asking to develop two publicly owned parcels and keep the proceeds for themselves -- and that's before knowing whether the team would even agree to pay rent to the city on the new park. It's yet another sign that, as I wrote last year, teams are increasingly asking for development rights in lieu of cash, since while they're just as valuable, they don't make for as many nasty headlines. ... The Rays' leverage to make any demands on taxpayers is limited, given that they have an iron-clad lease holding them to Tropicana Field through 2027 -- so if the city says no, it's not like the team can up and threaten to move to Orlando. Certainly no one's a fan of the Trop, which was designed at the height of '80s fixed-dome ugliness -- but with the city still $100 million in debt on the place, one would hope that local officials would at least ask the Rays to pay their own way before letting them out of their lease two decades early.
On point, as usual.

Just a few additional notes:

• Two years ago, new Rays owner Stuart Steinberg said,
"You will never -- and I will say it now and hopefully I can say it and you'll follow up -- you will not hear the words, 'We need to have a new stadium.' "

• There really isn't any reason for MLB to continue asking for giant public subsidies. I mean, there's neven been many good reasons, but now there aren't any reasons at all. Local governments are suffering all kinds of financial problems, in part because "tax" has become a dirty word in this country, and in part because voters don't like honest politicians. (Yes, it's our fault.) Meanwhile -- and this story is just beginning to sink in -- Major League Baseball is awash in cash, so much cash that there really aren't enough free agents to go around this winter. We know the teams aren't going to lower ticket prices or stop selling billboards. So why not finance new ballparks? I suspect it's an idea whose time will come, someday.

• Somewhere here on my desk I've got a letter from ex-Rays owner Vince Naimoli. He wasn't happy about something I'd written about his team. Among his points: Tropicana Field was the best ballpark in the majors. Someday I gotta get that sucker framed."

I usually agree with most of Neyer's views, but not this time. I have a feeling that while the Rays will win their first World Series title in '10 will be in the Trop, all the others will be in the new water front stadium.