Hillborough County commissioner Ken Hagan did this week what many of us had been hoping somebody would do for a while. He stirred the Rays stadium pot.
At a recent budget workshop, Hagan asked if tax increment financing could be used to help defray some of the costs of a new baseball stadium in Hillsborough County.
In short, in order to build a stadium, a neighborhood would need to be renovated (streets, sewer lines, etc.) and since tax increment financing is already ear-marked for these type of needs, it could be used to pay for the infrastructure needs of a neighborhood should a baseball stadium be built.
Of course, all this really did, was get Mayor Bill Foster to start tossing around his typical negative rhetoric…
“They will talk about how much they respect St. Petersburg and how they won’t interfere, but they still talk about it,” Foster said. “The only parties that need to be talking about this are the city of St. Petersburg and the Rays.”
To which we ask: Then why aren’t the Rays and St. Pete talking?
Mayor Foster also told Richard Danielson
of the St. Pete Times, “the Rays aren’t going to Tampa or Hillsborough County,” which sounds eerily like a conversation with a two-year old. Have you ever tried to reason with a two-year old?
Parent: Sweetheart, let’s put your shoes on.
Parent: Don’t you want to go out and play?
Parent: Can dadda help?
Parent: What do you want to do?
But Foster’s naive stance was just warming up. He went on to add that if people in Hillsborough want to save the Rays, all they need to do is drive across the bridges, because gee, why didn’t anybody else think of that?
“Every time it comes up in Hillsborough County, I kind of chuckle, and I believe their heart is in the right place, and they sincerely want to keep this team in the region…I just believe that their focus is in the wrong place. … If anybody in Hillsborough County wants to keep the Rays in the region, then they need to drive over here and support the team in St. Petersburg.”
Translation: I don’t care if you don’t like Stroganoff. Tough shit. It’s all we got. So either eat up or go hungry.
John Romano writes what we are all thinking:
“It will not end well for St. Petersburg.”
Which is exactly something we have been thinking about a lot recently. Clearly this looks bad for the city of St. Pete. At some point they are probably going to lose the Rays. Whether the team moves to Tampa or someplace else, it seems like a longshot that they will stay in Pinellas county.
So we can understand Mayor Foster’s strong stance. He has a valuable asset that he may lose, without getting anything in return.
If and when the Rays move to Tampa, the city of St. Pete will become an afterthought. Sure, people from St. Pete will still go to Rays games. But let’s not kid ourselves. The Rays will be Tampa’s team.
But, does St. Pete have to be left empty-handed? Is there something the Rays or the city of Tampa, or Major League Baseball, or the State of Florida can offer the city of St. Pete as a parting gift? Is there something that could ease the pain?
We don’t know the answer. But maybe we need to stop talking about the Rays as if moving to Tampa is a foregone conclusion and how Mayor Foster and the City of St. Pete just need to “suck it up.” And maybe we need to think about what they can get out of this besides an empty Tropicana Field.
Romano, like many others, thinks that writing a big fat check is the answer. And Maybe it is. But is there is a bigger (and better) answer? A new museum? A beautiful soccer facility for
the Rowdies FC Tampa Bay? Some sort of tourist attraction that will consistently bring people (and money) into the city of St. Pete.
What about the promise of 9-12 Rays games a year? It’s better than none. What if the Rays promise to move their triple-A affiliate to the Al Lang Field land along with a new beautiful minor league ballpark on the waterfront that won’t piss off the locals?
Of course, none of this happens if nobody is talking. And right now, Ken Hagan is the only person who is looking for a solution to a problem everybody else seems to be ignoring.
In the end, we just wish these people would spend a little more time talking to each other and little less time bitching to the media.
We’ve been saying for a while now that this situation would get worse before it gets better. But now, this entire mess is starting to look like it will get even worse than we ever imagined.
And for the first time, we are starting to worry that this team’s next home will be in San Antonio.