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Joe Henderson: Cost of Rays new stadium: $892 million! Yikes

I’ll admit something right up front.

I had to suppress a gasp Tuesday afternoon when the Tampa Bay Rays unveiled the sticker price for the baseball stadium they propose in Ybor City and hope to play in by 2023.

$892 million!

That’s about $200 million more than I expected, but I guess it’s roughly in line with what stadiums cost these days. The question is, how badly does the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County want this?

We’re about to find out.

If built, it will be a dandy ballyard all right. Fixed translucent roof, which will give a nice natural light to the place. With 28,216 fixed seats – expandable to 30,842 if people don’t mind standing at some of the bars and other hangouts – it will be the smallest ballpark in the major leagues.

That’s not a bad thing.

And yes, I believe Ybor City is the perfect, central location to attract fans from the entire Tampa Bay market. The Rays say 1.6 million people live within a 30-minute drive of the proposed location. They also went to great lengths during the roll-out at the Italian Club in Ybor to stress that the ballpark could be used year-round in a variety of ways by the community – for free, in some cases.

But …

$892 million!

That’s a lotta playground.

Don’t ask for details about how much the Rays are willing to pay versus how much the bill they expect/hope/pray the public will foot. Those numbers aren’t even close to being available, and it will be a torturous process to craft something that works.

It will take a combination of tourist tax money, maybe a special taxing district where the newly generated revenues go to pay for the stadium, and …. oh, who knows. Tampa business groups are working hard to make this happen, so that might be another revenue stream.

It won’t be enough to cover the cost.

The question then becomes how much are the Rays willing to pay?

As Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said after watching the presentation, “You’re not going to see the city of Tampa write a check. I’m willing to walk away if it doesn’t make sense.”

Rays Owner Stu Sternberg regrettably suggested last spring the team might pay $150 million toward the project. Let’s just forget about that and chalk it up to something he shouldn’t have said out loud. If he wants this thing built – and I really believe he does – it’s going to take, well … a LOT more.

Because …

$892 million!

Sternberg did say that “we expect to be here for generations to come” and I believe that is what he wants.

To make that happen, yes, the Rays need a new stadium because Tropicana Field’s usefulness has long passed. Bad stadium in a bad location – too far away from too many people to make economic sense. Everyone talks about the problems the Florida Marlins are having drawing fans to their relatively new stadium, and that’s because they built it too far away from the center of their market.

The Rays, with a ballpark in Ybor, would not be repeating Miami’s mistake.

“We believe baseball cannot only survive here but thrive,” Sternberg said.

The timetable is tight.

The Rays and Hillsborough have to first work out a financing plan, then get it approved. You can almost book it that it won’t go to a public referendum like Raymond James Stadium did.

And the ferocity of opposition by some to even using one cent of public money – whether tourists pay it or not – should not be under-estimated.

So, yes, it looks like a fabulous ballpark. It would secure baseball’s future here, and I’m in the group that thinks that is important. The Rays are an asset to the community. Fans would realize what they’ve been missing from all those seasons at the Trop.

Until we hear details on how to pay for this though, I can’t get that figure out of my mind.

$892 million!


Written By

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.

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