The Rays of Saint Petersburg. I like the sound. The cool town with an amazing vibe paired with a scrappy baseball team you can never count out.
As we’ve learned more about the proposed Rays Stadium deal, one thing has become very obvious. If the St. Petersburg City Council and the Pinellas County Commission accept it, the subsidy paid by taxpayers to the company will be enormous.
According to a recent Tampa Bay Times analysis, if the deal goes through as proposed – with a stadium construction contribution, tax increment financing dollars, interest payments and infrastructure payments – the city and county will contribute $1.29 billion. Wow!
In the coming months, the City Council will consider whether this huge investment — which mostly affects St. Petersburg taxpayers and Pinellas County tourism funds — is worth it. Or whether it would be cheaper and more economically beneficial to sell the city’s land to others who could offer similar benefits without the ballpark. Besides baseball, among the benefits identified in the Rays/Hines proposal are open space, affordable housing, senior housing, a museum and intentional equity initiatives. Offices, hotels and medical are also planned.
Whether the stadium and field project is a good deal for St. Petersburg taxpayers is a topic worth debating, but I won’t discuss it here. The specific point of the proposal that I will address today is the name of the team. Why would our taxpayers invest over a billion dollars for a team named after Tampa?
It is silly to pretend that the outside world sees a difference between the names Tampa Bay and Tampa. Even professional sportscasters for area teams use the two names interchangeably. We’ve all heard it.
The Rays, in their proposal, generously offered to allow the team to wear jerseys that say Rays of St. Petersburg for one of 162 games each year – only if Major League Baseball (MLB) agrees. Nearly $1.3 billion invested – a day of branding for St. Petersburg. Really?
Now, for my many friends across the bay, please know that I think Tampa is a great city.
St. Petersburg too.
Therefore, I have an alternative suggestion. Regardless of which city provides the field and funding, the team name is expected to appear in 162 out of 162 games per year. If Tampa provides the land and funding, call Team Tampa Bay or Tampa, whichever they choose. St. Petersburg could then turn to finding alternative uses for 86 acres in one of the Southeast’s hottest downtowns — and save a lot of money. I think we would do well.
But if the St. Petersburg City Council provides very valuable land And adds this significant financial burden to future city taxpayers, please at least have the courage to demand that the team be called on Rays of St. Petersburg.
When IndyCar came to St. Petersburg, we demanded that the race be named after St. Petersburg. She is now respected and known in the world of automobile racing and has considerably enhanced the image of our city. And no one stays home because it’s not a “regional” name.
This is more than a matter of civic pride, which is important. It’s about the city’s identity and brand. A city’s branding impacts business relocation, economic development and tourism. For example, as part of the Marlins’ deal to secure financing for their new MLB stadium, the team name was changed from a regional name (Florida Marlins) At Miami Marlins.
Pinellas County spends millions of dollars each year to promote St. Petersburg/Clearwater tourism across the country and around the world. Why wouldn’t we want the baseball team to do the same thing when the county is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in hotel bed taxes on the Rays’ business?
Saint Petersburg is an important cultural, commercial, technological, educational, tourist and financial center. It is simply not appropriate to ask our citizens to pay hundreds of millions of dollars of their taxes to build a stadium for a baseball team named after another city. If the Rays and/or MLB have so little respect for our city that they refuse to name the team Rays of St. Petersburgmaybe they should find somewhere else to play.
Rick Baker is a former mayor of St. Petersburg.