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What if Bill Foster's thinking on the Pier were applied to Tropicana Field?

By on July 3, 2012

We ran across this article from last year in the St. Petersburg Times about the rising subsidy that the city has to pay to keep Tropicana Field running and the Rays playing games there, and this sentence really stood out for us:

“Costs usually outpace revenues $1 million to $2 million a year, creating an operating subsidy on top of St. Petersburg’s annual $6 million debt service on the Trop construction bonds.”

So, lets just average that out and say there is a $1.5 million net operating subsidy each year on the Trop and the Rays(exactly the same as the subsidy on the Pier), and added to that there is another $6 million the city pays each year on the debt for the costs to build the Trop. The Pier generates $74 million in economic impact to the city each year on $1.5 million in net costs, and the Trop and the Rays generate a $92.5 million economic impact to the city each year on $7.5 million in net costs(of course this doesn’t include the “little” expenses that the city has spent on both structures over the last several years either, just the fixed yearly costs.)

<abacus clattering>

For more than a decade, for each dollar the city has spent on the Trop and Rays we got $12.33 back, and for each city dollar spent on the Pier we got $49.33 back. Which one seems like a better business model to you?

The answer is that both are worth keeping, they are both strong assets for the city of St. Petersburg, and you can’t find their equals across the bay in Tampa. They both generate many times more dollars in economic impact than they cost to maintain, and they are both icons of our city.

So why is Mayor Bill Foster determined to destroy a city icon that has a much better economic rate of return than Rays Baseball?

It may be because Foster is a “sports guy”, he goes to Rays games all the time, and he almost never goes to the Pier, so it could be a simple personal preference.

But maybe he is really laser-focused on reducing all city subsidies(like the Pier, the Coliseum and Mahaffey Theater), and if the Rays weren’t under contract he would do the same thing to Tropicana Field as he is trying to do the the Pier, tear it down and build a cheaper stadium with one-third the size of the current yearly subsidy.

Imagine a smaller(but very artsy), minor-league baseball stadium sitting where Tropicana Field is now. No dome or air-conditioning to keep spectators dry and cool. No in-stadium restaurants. No events other than baseball games taking place. A much much smaller economic impact. That could be the future for the Trop under a Foster “subsidy reduction at all costs” plan like the one he is pushing with the Lens Pier. And as for the Rays, they would go the way of the pelicans that have called the Pier home for generations, off to a better roost, where they are wanted, perhaps in Hillsborough County close to the water somewhere.

Cross-posted with permission of Bob Wilson of the Bill Foster Watch.

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