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The mayor of Tampa says a downtown stadium for the Rays is “within reach”

Nov 8, 2013, 8:30 AM EDT

Texas Rangers v Tampa Bay Rays - Game 3

Interesting thing I did not know until now: St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster lost his reelection bid on Tuesday. This could be significant inasmuch as Foster was the primary force behind St. Pete’s unwavering insistence that the Rays stick to their Tropicana Field lease and not pursue other stadium options elsewhere. Maybe his successor and the city council don’t change the stance — money is money and leases are leases after all — but it could signal change.

Against that backdrop, Tampa’s Mayor talked big about a Rays stadium in downtown Tampa yesterday:

 Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Thursday told a gathering of hospitality officials that a downtown ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays is within reach, despite challenges that persist. “It’s either going to be Tampa or someplace else, not St. Petersburg,” Buckhorn told 100 members attending the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association’s annual luncheon.

His statements imply that Tampa would be willing to help finance a parch as well. He mentioned a couple of sites and said that a financing plan that did not include a “taxpayer giveaway” would need to be put in place. That’s a clever bit of nuance there. If it were to be all private he’d say a plan that did not include “taxpayer funds.” He seems to be OK with public money being used as long as someone — someone pro-ballpark — can characterize it as smart or responsible as opposed to a “giveaway.” And there is always someone who is willing to do that even if it’s disingenuous in the extreme to do so.

But that’s Tampa’s problem. With Foster leaving office and Tampa’s mayor talking like this, one suspects that we’re in for a new act in the Rays ballpark drama.

  1. stex52 - Nov 8, 2013 at 8:38 AM

    Hey, there were those who really ripped into the esthetics of the Astrodome. And there is some justification, especially dependent on individual tastes. But it was a groundbreaker – a beta test, if you will – and those always come with some problems.

    But that picture makes Tropicana look like the UGLIEST thing I have ever seen. And I’ve watched people field dressing a deer.

    • historiophiliac - Nov 8, 2013 at 10:52 AM

      Yeah, it looks like a skunk smells.

    • indaburg - Nov 8, 2013 at 5:24 PM

      Have you ever been there?

      • vlock1 - Nov 8, 2013 at 11:05 PM

        I haven’t, and I’m curious about it. Heck, I’ve never seen a game played indoors. What’s it really like inside that barn?

      • raysfan1 - Nov 9, 2013 at 10:53 AM

        Vlock, while I realize you are being sarcastic…
        It’s a comfortable place to watch a game, and there are no bad/obstructed views of the field (something the Astrodome could not say, stex).
        The downside on the inside is that the cat walks are sometimes in the way of high flies, and the stadium needs some upgrades/it’s showing some age.

        The bigger issues are bad location, poor mass transit, and pretty high cost of parking.

      • indaburg - Nov 9, 2013 at 1:41 PM

        To save money on parking, I park in the parking lot on 5th Ave S at Campbell Park and cross the I-175 overpass. Plenty of free parking, and it’s only about a 5 minute walk to the stadium, although it’s up a steep ramp on the overpass. You will get your cardio exercise. It’s well lit, and there’s always a crowd coming back from the stadium, as well as a police officer assisting to cross the street. I’ve never had a problem.

      • vlock1 - Nov 9, 2013 at 1:21 PM

        Wasn’t being sarcastic at all, raysfan. Thanks for the input. It’s very easy to be dismissive of something that you’ve only ever experienced on television, and I’m no big fan of people who do that. While personally I much prefer watching baseball played outdoors, I’m also not one of these people who are all about amenities like gigantic video screens and forty-seven restaurants and the like, and the Trop honestly seems like a place that, were I a Rays fan, I could get used to.

      • indaburg - Nov 9, 2013 at 1:34 PM

        Everyone who I have brought there for the first time has said the same thing to me: “it was much nicer than I thought it would be.” Either they were being polite (not people known to be polite) or their expectations were set very low. That’s what you get for believing Bud Selig and ESPN. It actually is a comfortable place to watch a game. It’s true, she’s not the most photogenic place. I can relate–not all of us photograph well.

        To stex I say, nothing is uglier than the Astros’ win-loss record, even the Trop. I’d rather have a really good team in a lousy stadium than vice versa.

  2. flamethrower101 - Nov 8, 2013 at 8:42 AM

    I’m really surprised just how much Bill’s involvement in the Rays staying in St. Petersburg hurt his reelection campaign. But I’m thrilled because maybe now the Rays will finally have a chance to get a decent ballpark. I still don’t understand how Bill could be such a giant idiot and not see the Rays need a new park.

    • chill1184 - Nov 8, 2013 at 8:46 AM

      Your seriously asking why a politician can be such an idiot? It’s in their DNA to be stupid.

      • flamethrower101 - Nov 8, 2013 at 8:48 AM

        It must be in yours to use the wrong “you’re”

    • paperlions - Nov 8, 2013 at 9:16 AM

      Being a giant idiot would be giving tax payer dollars to billionaires. No one is stopping the rays from building a new park…they are free to build to their heart’s content. Using tax payer dollars to build a place for a sports team to play rather than things that actually provide services to the public paying those taxes is the definition of idiocy.

      • tfbuckfutter - Nov 8, 2013 at 11:33 AM

        They could build a stadium anywhere. .. But it wouldn’t do much good since they would still be forced to pay for Crapacana Field for another two decades.

      • paperlions - Nov 8, 2013 at 11:43 AM

        It takes 5-6 years minimum for the stadium process anyway….if they built one somewhere, but the time it was ready, there would be less of the lease they would have to buy out.

        In any case, still huge balls for billionaires to ask for public money, tax breaks, AND to be able to get out of their lease. How many hand outs do they want?

      • tfbuckfutter - Nov 8, 2013 at 12:02 PM

        The city has refused to even discuss the topic if a buyout.

        That’s what has been the problem this entire time.

      • paperlions - Nov 8, 2013 at 12:20 PM

        It isn’t like the current owners didn’t know the situation when they bought the team.

        Of course, I am not privy to any of the discussions….but I’d like to know if any of the suggestions by the Rays ever include anything for the City. If all the Rays want is to get out of the lease via some buy out that represents a net loss for the city….then they aren’t offering the city anything….so why should the City agree to it?

      • tfbuckfutter - Nov 8, 2013 at 12:27 PM

        I believe that the outgoing mayor had made comments in the past that the only way the Rays would be allowed to leave St. Pete is if they left the state.

        I don’t have time to look up the comments now, but from the city’s point of view letting the team out of its lease under any condition has always been a non-starter.

      • beachnbaseball - Nov 8, 2013 at 1:28 PM

        Building a new stadium is not the issue. The team signed a lease to play at Tropicana. The city will not let them break the lease. MLB needs to just flat out move the team and pay off the lease. There is no fan support. Check the attendance figures. Oh. And those cow bells suck.

      • raysfan1 - Nov 8, 2013 at 1:28 PM

        Tbf–the St Pete mayor’s position was that the Rays would only be let of the lease at the Trop to move to another location in St Pete.

  3. chill1184 - Nov 8, 2013 at 8:49 AM

    Not picking on the Rays but politicians in general who still push for tax payer funded stadiums certainly got some balls/spine to ask that of their citizens given the nations economy. Then again it’s easier to spend other people’s money (which politicians are good at) than your own.

    • kruegere - Nov 9, 2013 at 12:53 AM

      I’m not sure how long you’ve been following baseball, but everyone knows the Rays don’t have money.

  4. Todd Boss - Nov 8, 2013 at 9:07 AM

    Why personalize this to the Mayor?

    The CITY of St. Petersburg paid for that stadium, and the ownership group of the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays signed the contract to play there. The mayor is simply guarding his City’s investment and enforcing the contract that the team (at the time) legally executed. For all we know the Mayor privately agrees with baseball fans who now realize the demographic and geographic issues of the current stadium’s location. But money has been spent, and therefore the city needs get a return on that money.

    Now, if the team was willing to buy its way out of the contract, or to reach some sort of settlement whose terms were amenable to the city that paid all those millions of dollars to build that stadium, then maybe something can be reached. Otherwise frankly I see it as “sour grapes” that the poor millionaire owners of the Tampa Bay baseball team are unhappy about a contract that they clearly were aware of when they purchased the team.

    • raysfan1 - Nov 8, 2013 at 11:05 AM

      One of the issues has been the city’s intransigence over even considering a but out of the lease unless it was to move to another location in St Pete. Everything always comes down to money, but in this case there has been a lot of personality issues that even go beyond the money.

    • cackalackyank - Nov 8, 2013 at 11:54 AM

      Overall I agree with you, however the stadium wasn’t built for the Rays. It was built several years earlier for a potentially relocated team, the White Sox I believe. So the city took a flyer on building that place. They just didn’t get an immediate pay off. But, essentially you are correct…some very high priced lawyer for the then franchise owners OKed it, and I’m sure when the current owners bought the team it was reviewed by their lawyers again.
      I think, though there has been a take it or leave it approach on the buy out idea. Its not like a compromise has been offered.

      • raysfan1 - Nov 8, 2013 at 12:06 PM

        The Giants almost moved there in the 1990s. MLB thwarted the deal. The Rays’ existence is in part a reward for not suing.

      • gloccamorra - Nov 9, 2013 at 12:42 AM

        Oh, wonderful. The Rays got Tropicana to pay off a MLB deal? And Frank McCourt got the dodgers after his high bid for the Red Sox was rejected in favor of John Henry, who sold the Marlins to Loria, who was paid off by MLB by taking over the Expos and screwing Montreal in favor of DC. Bud Selig sure had a lot of scratch-my-back deals while Commish, didn’t he? It makes me wonder what else is out there, like the A’s, or Mets or Royals.

      • kruegere - Nov 9, 2013 at 12:54 AM

        Didn’t the Lightning play there for awhile?

      • raysfan1 - Nov 9, 2013 at 11:03 AM

        Yes, they did. So did the Tampa Bay Storm arena football league team.

        …and thanks for brining that up…The Lightning now have there own facility near downtown, and they were #8 in attendance out of 30 NHL teams last year and are #11 so far this year. There’s your demonstrable location effect on attendance.

    • extavernmouse - Nov 8, 2013 at 3:17 PM

      I actually once had a Tampa Bay Mariners t-shirt. If Edgar Martinez hadn’t hit the double that got the M’s into the ALCS, it’s likely that Safeco Field wouldn’t have been built and the Mariners would have moved from one horrible dome to another. Wish I still had that shirt…

  5. pastabelly - Nov 8, 2013 at 9:14 AM

    St Petersburg can be a bit of pain to get to from Tampa during rush hour and that the team would probably do better in Tampa. I also agree with others that the owners should be financing most of this since they are the ultimate beneficiaries.

    • indaburg - Nov 8, 2013 at 5:42 PM

      Vice versa–Tampa can be a HUGE pain in the ass to get to now in rush hour traffic. Build a stadium in downtown and the gridlock will be insurmountable. If they build it downtown, I won’t be able to attend weekday games anymore (I live in Pinellas). It’s that much of a headache. The problem is that this area sucks when it comes to public transport. No matter where you build it, it’ll cause a major headache traffic wise. We can’t hop on a subway like other major cities. The bus system is slow and unreliable. Nevertheless, I agree that the stadium should be built downtown. Lots of young urban professionals. More businesses. They’ll draw better overall, and that is what is best for the team. I’ll go on weekends.

      My other alternate location is the dog track on Gandy in northeast St. Pete. It’s a huge space that can accommodate a stadium and parking. It’s at the intersection of two major arteries from Tampa–the Gandy Bridge and the Howard Frankland. It’s the first exit off I275 in St. Pete, shaving a good 20 minutes off the trip. There are a lot of businesses in the area–Raymond James, Tech Data, Jabil. Lots of businesses mean lots of potential customers.

  6. whitdog23 - Nov 8, 2013 at 9:15 AM

    still funny how everyone was all smiles over the stadium when it opened…no complaints. then all of a sudden. wasnt good enough

    • raysfan1 - Nov 8, 2013 at 11:12 AM

      The stadium broke ground in 1986 and was built over 4 years. The Rays did not exist then; the project was a “build it and they will come” idea. Typical stadium obsolescence is about 30 years, and the Trop is now approaching that.

      Also, as for all smiles, there were plenty who called it ugly from the start.

  7. jwbiii - Nov 8, 2013 at 10:03 AM

    Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman on the Rays:

    “The Rays are a real asset to our community, and as a community we not only have invested our tax dollars in the Rays but a lot of people gave up their homes and businesses for that stadium to be built.”

  8. rantalize - Nov 8, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    How is this possible? The attendance at The Trop is awful. I’m an O’s fan but it makes me sick to see a talented, fun and competitive team like the Rays have that many empty sets day in and day out. Florida doesn’t deserve all of these professional sports teams. It’s heavens waiting room and SS doesn’t pay enough for admission to these games.

    • raysfan1 - Nov 8, 2013 at 11:23 AM

      First major league games I ever attended were at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore in the early 1970’s. The place was surrounded on 3 sides by bad neighborhoods, and the 4th was mostly retirees. It was never a problem walking up and getting tickets because their annual attendance, despite being a WS contender every year, was 2/3 of what the Rays draw now. Why? Memorial was not a nice park, and it was in a bad location.

      Build a better park in a better location, and the dynamic changes.

      • florida76 - Nov 8, 2013 at 2:26 PM

        Rays fans have to honest with themselves about the lack of support, the Tampa Bay area may not be suitable for major league baseball. You just can’t compare an area with no MLB tradition with the likes of Baltimore, which had a history of support regardless of the stadium.

        Tropicana Field was hideous back when the team debuted, but few people ever brought up that fact or the location when the team was drawing flies. The public line was that as soon as the club was simply competitive, attendance would surge upward. Fast forward a dozen years later, the club is a regular playoff participant, and attendance still hasn’t responded.

        We are clearly in the last several years of the Rays in the TB area, barring a miracle. The lease will be weakening after 2016 or so, giving the organization much more leverage. No way the club is in the area close to 2027, and ownership has two important weapons on its side.

        First, they’ll have the support of MLB and the other teams, knowing ownership has done everything possible to attract fans and are still failing to be supported. Second, the relocation possibilities will be greatly enhanced because the club is a contender. Almost always, a sports team is a loser, or mediocre, when they move. And the potential new city doesn’t have to have a new stadium already built, that fact tends to be overlooked.

      • raysfan1 - Nov 8, 2013 at 3:02 PM

        Actually, the lease is pretty iron-clad through 2028, and St Pete does not have to accept any buy out.

        As far as moving goes, there also has to be a better place to go. New York would certainly be able to support it, but the Yankees and Mets would have to be convinced/paid off.

        It’s also a fallacy to say central FL does not have a baseball tradition. They do not have a regular season MLB tradition, but they have long had grapefruit leagues, minor leagues, and college ball.

        Lastly, yes, national commentators routinely derided the Trop as an ugly white elephant even in their expansion season, often comparing it negatively to the Diamondbacks’ park and to Pac Bell.

  9. mrlaloosh - Nov 8, 2013 at 11:14 AM

    There are more people commenting on this story than attend Rays games.

  10. yanmontreal - Nov 9, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    Bring the Rays back in Montréal,thats it!

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