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Portland Stumbles, Vegas Marches in Chase for the Tampa Bay Rays

January 23, 2019 - 6:00am
Stuart Sternberg announcing Ybor City is dead
Stuart Sternberg announcing Ybor City is dead

Pending legislation by a group of Oregon legislators would eliminate a $150 million state appropriation towards a Major League Baseball stadium in Portland.

It’s a blow to Portland’s hopes of luring an MLB team and a boost for competing cities, especially Las Vegas. The Tampa Bay Rays, suffering from a scarcity of local support, is the prime target of those cities.

Portland backers of an MLB team, known as the Portland Diamond Project, were counting on the state money, committed 15 years ago, to help finance the stadium at the Port of Portland along the picturesque Willamette River.

That, and questions about the proposed site’s accessibility are major setbacks for Portland’s longtime quest for big show baseball.

The fan-challenged Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics are considered by far the most likely franchises to relocate. Of the cities coveting Major League Baseball, Las Vegas, has the financing, an easily accessible potential stadium site, and local baseball fervor that has moved Sin City to the top of MLB’s relocation list.

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg asserted last month at Major League Baseball’s winter meetings that plans for a new stadium in Tampa’s Ybor City are dead. A couple of weeks later, Sternberg said the current home of the Rays, St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field, would be reconfigured to contain several thousand seats fewer.

Those are the actions of an owner who does not include Florida, let alone the Tampa Bay area, in his long-range plans.

The new Tropicana setup actually contains far fewer seats than the blueprint for the failed Ybor City ballpark site. Tropicana will have even less seating capacity than many North American soccer stadiums.

There’s no doubt Sternberg, with the blessing of MLB’s other ownership groups, is looking to relocate the Rays to a city that will give him a modern stadium, national caché, and the promise of decent attendance and fan loyalty.

He has none of those in Tampa Bay. The prime movers of committing $650 million for a baseball stadium in Ybor City, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, are not exactly baseball boosters or denizens of Tropicana Field. The pair, along with developers Darryl Shaw and Jeff “Transit Tax” Vinik, stood to gain the most from the relocation on the taxpayers' dime.

There would have been no referendum or public hearings for the massive appropriation. The fast-buck artists involved in the scheme know it would not withstand public scrutiny.

The rumored site for a baseball stadium in Las Vegas is the 100 acres now consisting mostly of the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino. It has ideal access from the fabled Strip and Interstate 15.

The sale and demolition of the Rio is almost a foregone conclusion, with gambling aficionados asking, where will the World Series of Poker be held when the Rio is gone?

And Vegas has become a hotspot for baseball. Fifteen years ago, the region would host no more than five youth tournaments a year. That number has grown to as many as 30 with Arizona and California coaches swooping in hopes of poaching emerging stars.

This $1.9 billion stadium will be home to the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders
This $1.9 billion stadium will be home to the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas metropolitan area population has mushroomed to 2.2 million, surpassing Tampa Bay.

The paragon for the Las Vegas ballplayer is Bryce Harper, a local product who is on track to receive the most lucrative contract in baseball history as a free agent this offseason.

The Las Vegas metropolitan area population has mushroomed to 2.2 million, surpassing Tampa Bay.  While Las Vegas appears on a fast track to obtaining an MLB franchise, Portland has hit speed bumps.

A group of five Oregon legislators sponsored a bill aimed at repealing laws passed in 2003 that allowed for up to $150 million in state-issued bonds to help pay for a MLB ballpark in Portland. The current law would tax the salaries of players and coaches who perform in the stadium to raise that money.

The proposed 32,000-seat Portland stadium sits on 45 acres in the northwest industrial part of the city. The nearest light rail station is 2 miles away and 1.5 miles from the nearest streetcar stop. One bus line is the only public transit service running past the proposed stadium site. There’s not even nearby freeway access.

The debate over the site’s practicality has become public, adding another obstacle to Portland’s quest.

Jim Bleyer, a former reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Tribune, writes the Tampa Bay Beat blog.


The reason baseball failed in baseball-tradition-rich Tampa Bay is because of Bud Selig, who selected cheapskate Vince Naimoli as the "winning" owner over local guy Frank Morsani. Naimoli took the bait of a cheap tin-can of a stadium that St. Pete built in a location not easily accessible to a large portion of that 3.1 million population. Morsani was planning a privately financed stadium in Tampa, which has much better access, more density, a younger population, and more disposable income.

Jim: As of last year, TB had a population of about 3.1M vs. LV at 2.2M. But population really doesn't matter, as Florida, for whatever reason(s), is not a baseball state. The Marlins are bottom feeders in attendance as well, and their new stadium did nothing to attract an expanded fan base.

Montreal more likely fit for rays

If the stadium location for Portland is so bad why do they have north of $1 billion in commitments from private interests. Las Vegas also does not have a strong TV market and its residents have weak purchasing power

Sounds to me like the writer of this article is pushing for Vegas. Although the legislation has been introduced in Portland, it has been backed by a few leaders who would have minor league baseball teams affected by bringing in a major league team. The Majority Leader of Oregon's Senate is mis-characterizing this money as money that tax-payers would foot the bill for when, in fact, it would be paid by a tax on players salaries. That being said, I honestly would prefer for Oakland to relocate to Portland or that we wait and get an expansion franchise. This writer can have their 'Rays' in Vegas.

well I am moving to wherever they wind up sans Montreal- I do hope it is Portland though as I have already lived in Vegas and was not a fan of the homeless, gangs and pompous LA douchebags moving and visiting to Sin City.

Bleyer contends that the Las Vegas "population of 2.2 million surpasses Tampa Bay". However, the Tampa Bay MSA shows a 2018 population of just about 3.1 million ... about 41% greater than Las Vegas. Be that as it may ... how many people in this area really care where Sternberg might move to? The benefit of him moving out of here is that no local taxpayers will get screwed out of a billion dollars that could be better used for many more purposes benefiting the general public than would building and paying for an over-the-top baseball stadium for a billionaire pro sports team owner! Vaya con Dios!

EASY SOLUTION ! ! !......ABSOLUTELY *NO TAXPAYER MONEY* TO BE USED TO BUILD "SPORTS STADIUMS" IN FLORIDA ! ! !... N-O-N-E !!!... N-E-V-E-R !!! (See my comments below...///...Maybe Johnny Morgan would support using ALL "marijuana profits" (including "lawyer marijuana litigation profits") in efforts towards building a "Rays Stadium"....NORTH of politically inbred Tampa...

How about ORLANDO, boys..?!? Under "Disney's" (the Owner of ESPN) managment, in the "city of tourism" and the longtime "home State of the 'RAYS",..might provide some valuable input here on behalf of ALL Floridians..! ("Don't throw out the baby with the bath water" FOLKS...!) It's MORE than time to rethink Florida support for an always exciting "home team" that has (from the beginning) always exhibited "youthful heart" for the game of Baseball,.. and its FANS..! Want "space", and "magnificence", and "magic",.. as well as "universal Fan support"?... Then 'think' "Disney" (You ALREADY HAVE THAT HERE in your "OWN back yard"...! ! ! [...and the "fan base" would be "tourist national" FOR EVERY GAME, on EVERY "GAME DAY"! ]

Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

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