Joe Henderson: Let's hope Stu Sternberg was joking - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Let’s hope Stu Sternberg was joking

I assume Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg was trying to make a joke Wednesday when he said his organization might come up with $150 million to help pay for a new ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City that will cost a lot more than that.

I say that because I literally started laughing as I read his quotes in the Tampa Bay Times.

Speaking to longtime Rays’ writer Marc Topkin at baseball meetings in Orlando, Sternberg said, “We’ve tried to make some guesstimates, some estimates on what would be prudent for us, what would give us the ability to take this step in committing to a physical place for another generation or two, and our thought process is it’s probably in the $150 million range. We might find out that’s too much. We might find out that we can afford more.”

My guesstimate is that with a stadium to replace decrepit Tropicana Field hypothetically priced at $800 million, give or take a luxury suite or two, Sternberg and Major League Baseball can’t be seriously thinking of asking/demanding taxpayers to pay the $650 million difference.

As Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan noted, “I don’t know if we’ll ever get there.”

Hagan, who worked with the Rays on potential stadium sites in Hillsborough, was speaking at a commission meeting that was going on at roughly the same time Sternberg made his opening gambit.

I love baseball and believe the Rays are a major asset to the overall community, but it has limits. What Sternberg offered up sounded more like an extortion note than a pitch for serious public-private partnership.

I believe Sternberg knows that, too. He is a smart man.

As long as we’re tossing numbers around, how about these: Major League Baseball’s revenues reached $10 billion in 2016, with a goal of topping $15 billion within a few years. The Miami Marlins just sold for $1.2 billion, much of it driven by the team’s five-year-old stadium that will cost taxpayers an estimated $2.6 billion by the time it is paid off in 2049.

That made a nice return on investment for former owner Jeff Loria, who bought the team for $158 million in 2002. Sternberg bought a 48 percent stake in the then-Devil Rays in 2004 for a reported $65 million. The Rays are worth a lot more now.

Then, there is this: In 2014, Sternberg said that without a new stadium, he would sell the Rays and the new owner likely would move them out of the area.

That would be bad, but if the alternative is a take-it-or-leave-it pitch to taxpayers, my guess is the Rays will be some other city’s problem at some point.

The usual ideas for what laughably is referred to as the public’s “contribution” have been floated — some combination of tourist taxes, rental car surcharges, special taxing districts, user fees, and so on.

There are several problems with all those pitches.

First, the mood in Tallahassee has swung dramatically against using any public money to enrich private enterprise. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has been particularly outspoken on this subject.

Second, even if lawmakers would soften their opposition to such solutions, all those sources combined probably would still fall well short of the amount needed to pay for this.

Everyone knows that.

If Sternberg’s statement is just an opener to get talks started, OK. But if he’s serious about what he says the Rays will pay, then it’s over.

That’s no joke.

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

7 Comments

  1. You can tell that Stu Sternberg is very much in touch with the local news. 30% of Hillsborough County teachers are not getting the $4,000 per year raise that they were promised because of shortage of funds for education. But Stu is expecting $650 million in taxpayer funds, which is two and half times (in 2017 dollars) what the Glaciers (very cold people) ripped off from Hillsborough taxpayers about 20 years ago. It might be time for Evan Longoria to brush up on his French.

    1. Montreal can’t afford it either. Las Vegas is the new target. Citizen’s don’t care if they are fleeced and they have more corrupt politician’s than Florida.

  2. Why can’t Stu Sternberg emulate the Oakland A’s ownership which is going the ‘private financing’ route for its new ballpark? For the 2017 season, the A’s had a slightly higher payroll and slightly higher attendance than the Rays, so the ‘financials’ of both teams should be very similar. It would be really cool if both the A’s and the Rays opened their books so we could do a side by side comparison, but don’t hold your breath.

  3. Stu Sternberg and his partners paid less than $200 million for the Rays in 2004 and the franchise is now valued at $825 million. Looks like he can use the franchise value as collateral for pretty much the entire cost of the stadium.

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