Whether or not they’re fans of baseball, residents in Tampa and St. Petersburg have the opportunity of a lifetime to become investors in the future of America’s pastime.
They’ve been told to imagine a sprawling ballpark with a retractable roof, enviable seating capacity, and a prime location in Tampa that would make attract baseball teams and fans from all around.
Taxpayers will be expected to shell out close to $400 million in order achieve such a dream, notwithstanding overrun costs to expand infrastructure and parking garages around the new stadium.
The pitch was unveiled in the Bay Area Baseball Stadium Finance Summary, a joint project of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce intended to “educate” local citizens of the financial and social benefits of investing in such a venture.
Though the Tampa Bay Rays already enjoy a fully functional stadium, Tropicana Field, opened in 1990 in downtown St. Petersburg, complaints about less than ideal attendance and location have dogged the team’s fate and invited talks of moving the team across the bay.
The Major League Baseball team had its inaugural season in the stadium in 1998.
But such talk is muted, however, at least until 2027, when the Rays’ contract with the city of St. Petersburg expires, around the same time the large debt taken out to finance the original stadium will be paid off.
It cost nearly $233 million in construction in today’s dollars, and St. Petersburg has so far only been able to repay just over 25 percent.
For his part, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has kept the Rays in check about sticking around until 2027, threatening to sue any party attempting to break the contract and move the team out of the downtown structure.
“I put a lot in contracts, commitments and loyalty. All I’m asking is for them to abide by the contract,” Foster told The New York Times in June.
In the new proposal penned by the chambers of commerce, the Rays would pick up 20-40 percent of the estimated cost $621 million cost for construction of a new stadium, but the rest would fall on taxpayers, again.
The authors of the proposal were sure to address this skepticism, offering that any stadium deal could be accomplished “without imposing new taxes on local residents,” suggesting diverting old taxes in order to pay for it and renegotiating Tropicana Field debt payments for more favorable terms.
Instead of using the Community Investment Tax of Hillsborough County to build schools and basic infrastructure, the chambers of commerce wants that money redirected to finance the new stadium, according to the proposal. But the proposal also warns it could “face some political hurdles” if residents vote on the matter.
The one-cent sales tax in Pinellas County also could be retooled to pay for the stadium, the authors claim, as well as applying for millions in federal tax credits given to investors in low-income communities.