I hope that when Bud Selig makes his expected perfunctory visit to the Tampa Bay area, he wears a cape. Or maybe a mask. Something to signify that he is the man with a plan to fix all that ails the Rays and the market.
Chances are Selig won’t do anything other than make that visit. He’ll decry the attendance woes at Tropicana Field. He’ll continue to say that the team needs a long-term solution. Yet when he attempts to proselytize St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster and other pols, he’ll do so with the knowledge that he has very little leverage in the matter.
Simply put, the Rays are stuck at the Trop through 2027. A plan to vacate the Trop by 2017 was floated a few years ago, with development proceeds used to pay off the remaining debt on the stadium. Obviously that plan went nowhere. Since then we’ve heard officials from neighboring Tampa and Hillsborough County express frustration that they can’t formally talk to Rays ownership without suffering a lawsuit from St. Pete. A developer’s plan to build in St. Pete across the Howard Frankland Bridge from Tampa has come and gone (for the time being, at least).
It’s a situation rich with irony. As MLB’s lawyers puff up to the point of arrogance against San Jose, The Lodge essentially powerless against St. Pete. The clear solution for them would be to cut a check to pay off the remaining ~$60 million in debt. $60 million doesn’t seem like that big a price to escape in the grand scheme of things, does it? Rays owner Stuart Sternberg refuses to name a specific amount he’s willing to pay. It sounds very similar to the impasse between the Giants and the A’s over territorial rights. Both sides have an unstated, unreasonable figure they prefer and have shown little interest in truly negotiating to get to a compromise amount.
Contrast that with our home situation, where the Giants have all the leverage over the A’s internally with MLB and MLB has leverage over San Jose. As we saw with MLB’s response to the antitrust lawsuit, they’re perfectly willing to shove the antitrust exemption in San Jose’s face when they feel they have power. What about in St. Pete, where they have little power? How about using ATE now, Bud?
It used to be that Selig didn’t have to don his cape and fly out from city to city. Instead he used right-hand man Bob DuPuy as his henchman. DuPuy has been out for a few years, so unless Selig is comfortable with Rob Manfred as his toady, poor old Bud’s gonna have to do it himself. But what can he do? Unless he’s promising something to St. Pete to protect the city even more than the existing lease, whatever he sells will probably fall on deaf ears. Before the season started Sternberg offered $1.42 million per year via a lease amendment just to explore sites outside St. Pete. Perhaps Selig will have to sweeten the pot.
The impasse seemed to break last week, when Foster admitted that the team should be able to look outside city/county limits. It was thought that the $1.42 million/year deal could be the key. Foster maintains that the team will have to finish its lease at the Trop, while a framework for the Rays to look elsewhere could be agreed upon. That sounds good except for the whole 2027 part. That’s 14 more years!
Look on the bright side. 14 years is a long time to save money. Bud should suggest a Rays ballpark layaway plan. That’s part of the way we fund infrastructure in California. The BART-to-Silicon Valley extension is being partly funded by accrued sales tax increment. Only when the revenues hit certain targets will the full extension to downtown San Jose take place. Both Tampa and St. Petersburg have indicated they have limited funds to throw at what will surely be a $600-800 million (in today’s dollars) stadium when all is said and done. Even with some sort of out-of-the-box financing plan, there still will be a major public component, which is unsavory to say the least.
Then again, a layaway plan would be a lot more than what Selig has proposed to resolve the A’s-Giants’ T-rights kerfuffle. Don’t expect much substance from Selig. It’s been 53 months since Selig convened a panel to look into the A’s situation, with no resolution in sight. He has 17 months left as commissioner unless he chooses to get himself re-elected again. All of Selig’s recent activity regarding PEDs and replay suggest a man that wants to burnish his legacy before leaving. What about these tough, infighting oriented problems in Oakland and Tampa Bay? They’re probably left for Selig’s hand-picked successor. Hopefully that guy has more spine. And a cape, while he’s at it.
P.S. – For my Tampa Bay ballpark news counterpart, check out WTSP investigative reporter Noah Pransky’s Shadow of the Stadium blog. Exemplary work by a legit journalist, not some mere blogger (such as myself).