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Separating our love for baseball and our love for St. Petersburg

Robin Miller, President of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber, writes in the Tampa Bay Times - The Tampa Bay Rays are too valuable to allow to leave.

My response:

Robin - too valuable to whom - besides the billionaire owners and the multi-million-dollar salaried players? Have you looked at the overall financial picture and St. Petersburg's resources, along with competing priorities for sewer, storm and infrastructure upgrades? Have you considered what projects will suffer, over a 30-year period, due to decisions we make today? Because based on your comments, it's hard to know.

You point out correctly that the Rays have provided financial support and volunteer hours to better our community. You mention the many non-profit organizations that the Rays support. That sort of corporate citizenship is laudable. But is that the reason for our community to commit $2.4 billion to a private business? Because I can name many businesses - big and small - that do what is right and support community organizations - and don't expect free money.

Giving back is what stand-up businesses do. For example, at Raymond James, where I spent a great part of my career, "Giving back to the communities in which we live and work" has been part of the RJ mission since its founding 62 years ago. Raymond James, probably the single most important factor in Tampa Bay's growth, has not asked for a $2.4 billion handout and I am sure they are not looking for one now.

You say that development plan for the Gas Plant property will create jobs and attract businesses. That's true. But that has nothing to do with the Rays. If the Rays were job creators and business attractors there would have been development around the stadium starting 27 years ago when the Rays came to town. Instead, it's what has happened in the last 10 years - Beach Drive, the restaurants, and the Dali Museum, to name a few.

Everyone knows this property is now ready for development, with or without the Rays.

Look at all of the construction cranes. Developers are not building offices, and apartments, and hotels all around the Gas Plant property because of the Rays. They are building because St. Petersburg is a vibrant, dynamic community where people want to live, work and play. Ask them.

You say that building a new stadium for the Rays will be a regional economic driver. It's the opposite. The reason the Gas Plant property is now ready for development into offices, apartments and other uses is due to the real economic drivers - our communities, our beaches, the museums, the pier, and the restaurants. Equally important, the drivers are the knowledge-based businesses - financial services, tech, health care and our universities. That's why businesses and people move here - looking for office space, apartments and condominiums to be built on the Gas Plant property.

You say that no community wants to lose its baseball team. That's true. But at what cost?

St. Petersburg has over $5 billion of needed repairs to its sewer and storm water systems. It has a huge need to help underwrite workforce housing. And so much more. Baseball is nice but there are too many priorities that come ahead of it. Baseball is a private business and just like any private business - they need to pay their own way.

You point out that many questions have been raised about whether the Rays/Hines plan is affordable. Your comments indicate the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce thinks the plan is affordable.

Does the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce really think that the Rays/Deal, a deal that will transfer to billionaires $1.6 billion of St. Petersburg's resources - $6,000 for every man, woman, and child living in St. Petersburg - is affordable?

Does the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce really think that the Rays/Hines deal that will absorb $600 million (with interest) of Tourist Development Tax is affordable - soaking up $20 million per year, for 30 years? Ask any hotel owner, or restaurant owner on the beaches - would they rather see tourist promotion dollars spent on a baseball stadium or running ads up North promoting our beaches and restaurants. And save some of that tourist tax revenue to re-nourish the beaches after the next storm.

Let me suggest you read my blog Beaches or Baseball. 40% of tourists visit Pinellas because of the beaches. 3% because of sporting events.

You raise the issue of whether the plan is affordable and your only answer is "we can't afford to lose the Rays." Where are the facts? We can't afford to lose baseball if it comes at a $2.4 billion cost to our community. What if the cost was $3.4 billion or $4.4 billion?

Here are some facts:

Stadiums and baseball don't drive economic growth: More than 100 reviews of sports stadiums demonstrate otherwise and provide clear evidence that new stadiums are not economic catalysts. Check out reports on other stadiums. For the first 20 years of the Rays existence the only benefactor was Ferg's bar. Let's thank Raymond James, Tech Data, Jabil, Bay Care and so many other companies who have driven economic growth.

Stadiums do not increase prosperity (except for team owners and players): The proposed Rays/Hines deal will cost the City of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County $2.4 billion in taxpayer resources (see our complete Analysis of the Rays Hines Proposal) - resources that would otherwise be available for high priority needs and that will increase prosperity. For a stadium to drive prosperity it would have to generate way more than the cost of $2.4 billion to our community - and it can't. How could it?

The Rays are not a major deciding factor for tourists visiting our area: While the Rays have had good teams throughout their history, they also have the notoriety of among the worst attendance records throughout the MLB (and even bottom five for attendance in 2024). Their poor attendance at the Gas Plant location is widely known and discussed. How is it possible to imagine that they'll serve as an 'anchor' for an entirely new district and travel destination? **As I have already discussed previously, only 3% of tourists care about sporting events when they visit Pinellas. But let's get back to the heart of the issue.

It's not a baseball or no baseball choice. It's securing a fair deal.  The Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce is not alone in sentiments like "we can't afford to lose them," or "do you know how hard it was to get them," or "baseball provides so much civic pride." These are very common refrains after logical arguments regarding the financial numbers fail. The sentimental attachment to baseball is strong throughout America.

Nevertheless, loving baseball does not mean that it can it come at any cost without basic ROI. Baseball is a private, non-revenue sharing business - and that business is big in America. It's to their advantage, as a business, to make and keep as much money as possible. Public subsidies (corporate welfare) are not necessary for them to be profitable. And certainly not enough to cause them to reconsider a commitment to the major metropolitan area of the Tampa Bay region.

I grew up listening to the Buffalo Bison's baseball games on the radio. I know what loving baseball is all about. But we have to separate sentimentality from our fiscal responsibilities. Like me, the Rays fandom should want St. Petersburg to be fiscally healthy, and demand that from their team's ownership in pursuit of a true private/public - and mutually beneficial - partnership.

We don't hate baseball. We are not trying to kill Santa Clause. We just can't afford the cost of the presents.



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