No matter how you feel about it, the plan for a joint Tampa Bay/Montreal operation makes incremental progress in both cities, with work on new ballparks proceeding.
The latest news comes from north of the border, where Stephen Bronfman and Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante met to discuss a ballpark plan. Bronfman has been working on a plan for a ballpark in the Peel Basin area of Montreal, just outside of the downtown area. That facility was originally pitched as the centerpiece of a billion-dollar mixed-use development. The Rays would play spring training and the first half of the season in a new Ybor City ballpark and then play the second half of the season at a new Montreal ballpark; the cities would alternate on a yearly basis hosting postseason play.
It’s been reported the Bronfman investors were seeking public money for the development as a whole, leading to some groups to push the city not to put any public money into a development that includes a new ballpark. But, according to La Presse, the Bronfman group is not seeking any new provincial tax money for the project, but rather using new revenues generated by the development, including tourism spending (technically not TIF funding, but the idea is the same–you get the idea) and contribute to the project in terms of grants and forgivable loans. No public money would be devoted to the Peel Basin development until the Rays make a commitment to the split-season plan.
“We’re going to have a ‘no’ or a ‘go’ soon enough, hopefully a ‘go,’ and we’ll be able to show everything,” Bronfman told CTV after the Plante meeting. “We’ve all decided transparency is so important, and peeling the onion all the way down to its core, and we’ll have no hidden things in the closet.”
Meanwhile, in Tampa, local business leaders are optimistic about the Rays ending up at a new Ybor City ballpark, especially with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announcing she’s working with other local authorities to create a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark financial plan. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, incoming Chamber of Commerce Chairperson Andy Mayts expressed optimism about the Rays staying in town and why playing only half a season wasn’t a dealbreaker–after all, how many people actually attend all 82 home games in a season? His statement:
“So the number of games is not really a huge impediment to our business community. In fact, having half of a season would allow many more businesses to have half-season support, whether it be seats or suites or other ways. From my understanding in talking with the Rays, they want a community park, where it can be used for other events. Baseball’s one component of it, but it’s also baseball-oriented development and economic development that will be lost if we don’t keep the Rays in town.
“The Rays are running out of options. And they know that although 2028 seems like a long way off, it’s really not that far off for them when you have to look at planning and construction of a new ballpark. So I think we will have an answer this time next year. We do not want to be the town that loses baseball.”
There are some interesting implications to this plan if it’s successful. Let’s say it works and the arrangement generates enough new revenue to put the Rays in the upper half of MLB financials. What’s to stop other teams from adopting similar plans should their leases allow? A Seattle/Vancouver split, a Seattle/Portland split or Phoenix/Monterrey split? Another split that involves Nashville or New Jersey? And why couldn’t this sort of arrangement be tackled in the minors? The economics of ballparks could transition from baseball-centric temples to multiuse community resources–perhaps more like the economics of larger arenas, where we see sports as marquee items but concerts actually generating more revenue per event. Plenty of interesting ramifications here, to be sure.
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