Tampa Bay Rays: Use the Miami Marlins as a Cautionary Tale of Stadium Building

J.J. Rodriguez@ActofRodContributor IIApril 14, 2012

The Marlins' new facility comes with a staggering final price tag.
The Marlins' new facility comes with a staggering final price tag.Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays need a new stadium.

The thought is hardly mine alone and has been the topic of much debate in the Tampa Bay area by those who stand on both sides of the proverbial batter's box.

To build or not to build, that is the question.

And while there are many additional facets to the debate—location and costs chief among them— the fact remains that if the Rays are to sustain their current run of on-the-field success, a new stadium bringing in higher revenue is paramount.

But before the Rays or any area municipality break out their shovels and start digging, they should first look 275 miles south to the Miami Marlins' new stadium and how construction costs will financially impact citizens of South Florida over the next four decades.

On paper, the cost of constructing the Marlins' new park is $634 million, with Miami-Dade County footing a staggering 80 percent of the bill—or roughly $480 million, according to the Miami Herald.

Worse yet, the final price tag will be much higher because some of the bonds that were used to finance Marlins Park were underwritten by Merrill Lynch and J.P. Morgan at variable rates.

According to documents released by Merrill Lynch:

"The county is to begin paying down $319.3 million in professional sports tax bonds right away, with an $874,065 payment scheduled this year. Payments on those bonds increase gradually, with no pronounced spike. The highest (payment) is to come in 2048: about $71 million."

But wait, it gets better.

According to documents released by J.P. Morgan:

"The county isn't to pay a penny on $91.2 million in convention development tax bonds until 2025...A $260,000 payment is scheduled that year. But from 2041 to 2046, annual payments on the $91.2 million the county receives sit at $118.6 million."

That's right, folks. Their first payment to J.P. Morgan, due in 13 years, is for $260,000. Then from 2041-2046, Miami-Dade County will be responsible for more than $711.6 million in payments to J.P. Morgan.

So just how expensive will the final bill come to? Perhaps as high as $2.5 billion on $410.5 million in bonds.

And it's important to remember that Miami-Dade County—much like the Tampa Bay area—was hit particularly hard by the housing collapse and continues to struggle with budget shortfalls and high unemployment.  

Suffice it to say, county commissioners and other elected officials in the Tampa Bay area should apply due diligence and think twice when it comes to the notion of suggesting public financing of any potential stadium for the Rays.

After all, lost in the mind-numbing figures listed above is the sobering fact that there is truly very little financial benefit for the city of Miami in the above-mentioned deal, as the team is entitled to all revenue generated at its new facility with the exception of rent it will pay to the city for parking.

At an annual total of $4.5 million.

So while the debate rages in west-central Florida over whether the Rays really "need" a new stadium and further, where said stadium should be built, this much has become abundantly clear: The entire Tampa Bay area should remain mindful of the pitfalls of taxpayer-funded, privately-owned stadiums.

And yes, it would be nice to have a young, exciting team to root for in a shiny new facility, but it shouldn't come at the expense of tax hikes and job cuts. Baseball may be America's Pastime, but that doesn't mean it should hold American communities as financial hostages.

And that's something all fans will go to bat for.