Florida Pilot

A compendium of random thoughts from a former Washington Beltway insider who is now having a lot more fun flying small airplanes in Central Florida.

Monday, November 12, 2007

pickpockets at the baseball park

One always has to watch out for pickpockets and other petty thieves at baseball games and other sporting events. In St. Petersburg, Florida, however, the major pocket picking going on is by the team ownership.

When it comes to baseball, the city of St. Petersburg is a "mark" that can be taken again and again. Some 20 years ago, the city of something like 250,000 people spent close to $100,000,000 to build a baseball stadium "on spec" with the hope that a team would be assigned there. Some 10 years later (and tens of millions more in tax revenues), a team was assigned, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- note it was not the St. Petersburg Devil Rays.

Since the Devil Rays started playing, they have been consistently the worst team in the entire professional sport. Not surprisingly, the attendance has not been the greatest either.

This year, much of Florida is experiencing a tax revolt, so much so that the state legislature has taken steps to roll back and reduce the growth rate of taxes. Localities such as St. Petersburg have had to deal with reductions from planned expenditures.

One might think that now would not be a good time for a private business with a poor performance record to ask for massive public subsidies but this is not just any private business but a baseball team. The Devil Rays have now reinvented themselves as the Rays and want a $450,000,000 public subsidy to provide them with a new ball field. Wow!

Remember, there are 20 years remaining to pay for the existing ball field. The Rays want the city to raze the existing ball field and resell the land for high density development and use the money to further subsidize the baseball operation. The hope to have their new ball field, to be built on prime waterfront property, ready for use by 2012. There is no mention of where the money is going to come from to pay for the remaining amount due on the existing baseball field.

While details are scarce, the team seems to be offering to put in some of the money for the new stadium -- or are they? They also want a state tax subsidy of $60,000,000 and I'm sure they expect to receive any proceed from the sale of naming rights.

It is hard to imagine that St. Petersburg would suffer much if the Devil Rays, oops Rays, would just disappear and end up playing somewhere else. The taxpayers would certainly benefit.


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