Group releases findings on keeping Rays in Tampa Bay

6:52 AM, Jul 14, 2009   |    comments
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Nearly a year after it was created, the ABC Coalition - a private advisory board tasked with keeping the Rays in Tampa Bay - began releasing its initial findings on Monday.

Although the findings came with the disclaimer that they were preliminary and completely non-binding (the group has no legislative authority), some of the numbers discussed were staggering.

Three committees reported to the Board of Directors and below were some of the findings:

Tropicana Renovations

Much like the HOK/Populous company concluded last month, the Tropicana Renovations committee concluded that Tropicana Field needed to be renovated to be "a viable, marketable baseball facility."  However, such renovations were so costly ($470M, according to the Populous study, paid for by the Rays), it was not worth taxpayers' dollars when a new stadium could be built for a little more money.

Considering seven other new stadiums, the group found Tropicana Field fell especially short when it came to its narrow concourses with no view of the field; its small seats, many of which are pointed away from the action; its poor design of luxury suites; and its standing as the major's last domed-stadium with faux grass.

The group also concluded that selling the property might net $60M, an unwise use of city land given the current economy.

Finance

The finance committee said Florida law complicates stadium financing and many of the creative ways other teams financed ballparks would be unavailable to the Rays.  However, many teams have been successful with coming up with innovative financing ideas (i.e. ticket surcharges, lotteries, unique taxes) and then convincing legislature to change local laws.

While a new stadium could cost upwards of $500M (estimates have the Marlins' new stadium in Miami at $515M), the real cost to local communities would be in financing charges.  Financing $400M on a stadium could cost approximately $35M/yr in finance charges alone, depending on the interest rates of the bonds.  By some estimates, the Marlins' new stadium will cost more than $4B.

The group speculated that in Tampa Bay, several million dollars a year could be readily available through state loans, tourist taxes, and other revenue streams, but the gap between available funds and the required funds is perceived to be great.

Economic Impact

One of the most impressive numbers mentioned on Monday was the fact that only 19% of Tampa Bay's population lives within 30 minutes of Tropicana Field.  Steve Raymund, speaking on behalf of the Economic Impact Committee, didn't say if the drive times were during rush-hour, but Rays' V.P. Michael Kalt elaborated.  He said the 19% was "way below" any other team in a similar-sized market and "in the bottom-five if not dead-last" in the Majors.

Raymund said the Rays' attendance problems (in 2009, they rank 25th out of 30 MLB teams) are compounded by the area's lack of public transportation.  Furthermore, approximately 455,000 of the team's 1.8M fans in 2008 came from out of the area (out-of-state or other parts of Florida), meaning the team likely averaged fewer than 17,000 local fans per game in 2008.

What's Next

More committees will share their findings with the ABC Coalition's Board of Directors on Thursday, including the important group that has been analyzing possible stadium locations.

Board Director Jeff Lyash said he hopes the committees continue to research their topics while he helps present their findings to various city and county officials in Tampa Bay.  He'll then approach the public for comment before presenting the group's final reports later this year or in early 2010.

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